Earlier this month, a London judge ruled that Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You was not illicitly copied from the 2015 song Oh Why by two plaintiffs who brought a British lawsuit over the alleged similarity.  The victory represents a trifecta of major music artists winning copyright cases recently.  See here and here.

Commenting on the victory, Sheeran bemoaned:  “I feel like claims like this are way too common now …. It’s really damaging to the songwriting industry.  There’s only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music.  Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day on Spotify.”  There’s a good bit of truth to that. 

Sheeran referenced George Harrison’s claim that, after he got nailed for infringement, approaching songwriting filled him with trepidation.  Bad example. The Quiet One’s copyright debacle was a fairly colorable case of excessive borrowing. It was also rather bewildering, given Harrison’s enormous songwriting chops.  For example, Something is a masterpiece of music theory. The last guy you would ever think needed to bite another’s tune.  Sheeran’s point finds more support in the words of John Lennon, who famously quipped that “There are only a few notes.  Just variations on a theme.”  But even Lennon had to throw Harrison under the bus for what he did:  “Well, he walked right into it.  He knew what he was doing.”  Ouch.