As you all probably know, last year Ed Sheeran was accused that his song Thinking Out Loud was copied from Marvin Gaye’s song Let’s Get It On. According to Ed Townsend, co-writer of Gaye’s song, Sheeran quite literally borrowed the harmony, melody and rhythm for his own composition. Previously the same year, two musicians from California, Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard who wrote Matt Cardle’s song Amazing, accused Sheeran of illegally taking inspiration from them for another one of his works, Photograph.
As I am a singer-songwriter, the real question to me here is: did Ed deliberately steal both Gaye and Cardle songs’ melodic lines or could this all be just pure coincidence? In the case of Thinking Out Loud, the accusations are not justifiable, in my opinion. When listening to both Ed’s and Marvin’s songs, I only find resemblance in the beat/rhythm. The melodic line itself is quite different. According to Sheeran’s interview with Daily Telegraph, he wrote the song with his colleague Amy Wadge and was inspired by his relationship with Athina Andrelos, but did not mention Let’s Get It On being any sort of inspiration for his work.
The case of Photograph, however, is something completely different to me. The song does indeed have a great resemblance with Matt Cardle’s in both the melodic line and the rhythm, especially in the chorus. In fact, the writers claimed the two songs share 39 identical notes. Photograph has over 335,048,007 views on YouTube. In turn, Matt Cardle’s song has over 3,982,102 views there. It is however extremely strange that Cardle has distanced himself from the lawsuit.
In general, borrowing a melodic sequence could be done even unwillingly. Sometimes the composer could have heard a melody they did not even remember, and hardly know who the author or performer even is. At some point during the creation of a song, the memory of the song that was previously heard can reappear. Some musicians even prefer not to listen to music similar to their style, so that it does not influence their conscience. Another theory for unconscious resemblance is for a composer to start a melody and simply finish it in the most logical and harmonious way. No one knows with certainty exactly how and why music influences our consciousness, neither why some songs are liked a lot by listeners and become worldwide selling hits. In most laws, world standards recognize plagiarism in the existence of 8 consecutive identical tones in two songs. But what happens when the case is about, for example, 6 identical tones, which is almost the same in terms of hearing? Does this qualify as copyright infringement or is it just a moral reproach for the plagiarist? What if this is done due to a medical condition? Laws cannot give answer to such question. From an artist’s perspective, however, why would anyone settle a lawsuit if they are innocent.