Why You Should Love Ed Sheeran

Why? Well, you should respect him anyway. He got where he is by doing the hard work, and doing his own thing. He’s not a confected product sculpted by focus groups, nor a reality TV “star”, nor a child prodigy who has basically been abused their whole life (for that, see Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber Et Al.). I’m not saying you should like his music – I don’t – but he’s a world apart from the rest of the morons.

You should love him for another reason though. A much more important one. You may be aware that he was recently sued by the estate of songwriter Ed Townsend, who wrote the Marvin Gaye hit “Let’s Get It On”. The claim was that Sheeran’s song “Thinking Out Loud” was similar enough to the Townsend song that it violated their “intellectual copyright”. Happily, Ed won. The judge ruled he had breached no copyright law.

The world of music copyright is an absolute quagmire and has been since the first whisper was impressed on wax. The lawsuit did not claim Sheeran stole lyrics or even melody. They were trying to claim copyright of the CHORD SEQUENCE.

This is such a ludicrous claim it should have been pitched into the long grass before it got anywhere near a courtroom.

What is a chord sequence? It’s just the order that chords occur in a song. If you’re familiar with a twelve bar blues you’ll know there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of songs that all follow the same chord sequence. There were another few tens of thousands of folk songs that used the same I-IV-V sequence before those.

To claim ownership of the order that chords occur in a recording is so absurd I’m struggling to come up with a metaphor or simile to use as comparison. By that logic all of Woody Guthrie’s songs – for example – would be fair game for a lawsuit.

This is enormously important because if the case against Sheeran had been successful it would have opened the floodgates to a million other utterly frivolous lawsuits. By setting a legal precedent that a chord sequence cannot be copyrighted Sheeran has effectively protected artists everywhere from facing similar opportunistic lawsuits.

That is an amazing thing. And we should all be forever grateful that he stood (albeit involuntarily) in front of that bullet. Now, if we could deal with the legion other cooperate-serving-artist-hostile copyright regulations we’d really be cooking.

In the meantime, thank you Ed!