What the Ed Sheeran, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill Lawsuit Tells Us About Music Copyright

by Stephanie L. Carlin

What’s the best way to start out the new year? With an engagement and a lawsuit. Ed Sheeran is named in a copyright lawsuit filed on January 10, 2018 to New York’s Southern District courts. The suit claims that the 2017 song “The Rest of Our Life,” co-written by Sheeran for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, blatantly copies the 2014 song “When I Found You”, written by Australian duo Sean Carey and Beau Golden.

“The copying is, in many instances, verbatim, note-for-note copying of important and original elements of the song, and is obvious to the ordinary observer”, the complaint states. It goes on the say that when becoming informed of the infringing song, Jasmine Rae, the artist, wanted to involve her boyfriend Tim Holland, a marketing manager at Sony. The complaint further states that Mr. Holland knew about the song for months, as he was assigned to promote the song. “When questioned by Plaintiffs as to his silence about the similarities between ‘When I Found You’ and [Rest of Our Life], Mr. Holland stated he did not want to lose his job with Sony Music. When pressed further by Plaintiffs, Mr. Holland indicated that he had known that the songs were substantially similar for more than two months prior to the October 5, 2017 release date of the [Rest of Our Life].”

Representing the plaintiff is Richard Busch, who famously won the “Blurred Lines” case back in 2015 for the Marvin Gaye family. For that case, the court ruled in favor of the family over similarities of Marvin Gaye’s song ‘Got To Give It Up’ and won 5.3 million dollars in the process. The case is still in appeals at the moment by Pharrell, but the appeals are unlikely to be successful.

Ed Sheeran, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and the others named have yet to comment on the case, but it’s important to understand the significance of the suit. A majority of these cases are settled, and Ed Sheeran has settled before over songs “Photograph” and “Shape of You,” in addition to providing the plaintiffs credit for those songs. That’s also why Ed Sheeran is refusing to comment because there’s not much he can do. However, seeing that Busch was on the “Blurred Lines” case as well as the “Photograph” case, it may be interesting to see how his strategy plays out.

Typically in these cases, the only things that are relevant in a suit are music and lyrics. If both of those elements are present and found to be duplicated or an infringement of copyright, then the plaintiff will likely win (that’s, of course, not including covers. As long as the artist has a mechanical license and/or synchronization license from the copyright holder, then the artist is safe from being sued). Comparatively, the songs have similar chord progressions, but the melody is the focus and melodically, there’s not too much similarity. There is similarity in the verses, but the chorus is suggestive enough. Ultimately, I think Sheeran has a chance to fight, but knowing his past, the question is will he?

What do YOU think? Should Ed Sheeran settle or fight? Let us know in the comments below!