Unless you’ve been under a rock or completely out of range of any media, you’ve probably heard that international pop star Ed Sheeran was victorious in the copyright infringement lawsuit leveled against him. This isn’t just a victory for Sheeran; it’s a victory for songwriters everywhere.
For elucidation and illumination purposes, copyright law basically dictates that the copyrightable parts of a song are lyrics and melody. That’s it. Chord progressions, rhythms, even song titles aren’t protected. I could write a song and call it “I Am The Walrus,” and as long as the lyrics and melody were different, I would not have infringed upon the Beatles’ classic. (Note to self: this is not a good idea.)
This most recent lawsuit was filed by the family of the late Ed Townsend, co-writer of the Marvin Gaye hit “Let’s Get It On”. The suit claimed that Sheeran stole the rhythm, chord progression, and other elements from the 1973 soul hit when he wrote his 2014 song “Thinking Out Loud.” Perhaps the plaintiffs were emboldened by the really bad verdict in the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit leveled by Marvin Gaye’s estate against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke — a verdict the jury got so unbelievably wrong.
This jury got it right. There were no similarities in lyrics or melodic structure between the two songs. Ed Sheeran testified in his own defense, and really made his case understandable to non-musical jurors. As he explained it, “(These songs have) dramatically different lyrics, melodies and four chords, which are also different and used by songwriters every day, all over the world. … They are in a songwriter’s ‘alphabet,’ our toolkit, and should be there for all of us to use. No one owns them or the way they are played, in the same way that nobody owns the color blue.”
Sheeran’s victory is one for all songwriters. Nearly all music is derivative; the building blocks are the same. Let’s move on to…
Singing in the rain. Taylor Swift really is a badass. When the threat of lightning delayed the start of one of her recent outdoor concerts in Nashville, she waited it out. Starting more than three hours late, she treated her audience to the full Taylor Swift concert they had paid for — even though it was pouring rain. Many artists would have called it and canceled the show, but not Swift. The love her audiences feel for her is certainly reciprocated, and she showed her love and appreciation big-time.
There are videos online of this concert showing a very soaked Taylor Swift playing guitar and piano and singing for the tens of thousands of fans who waited patiently in the rain. She certainly gave her all that night, staying on stage for the full show and finally wrapping up after 1:30 a.m. Swift fans are among the most dedicated in all of music, and she certainly showed her dedication to her fans.
Speaking of a performer who has inspired generations of dedicated fans, Willie Nelson recently celebrated his 90th birthday with a pair of star-studded concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. Neil Young, Stephen Stills, George Strait, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Chris Stapleton, The Chicks, Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, Ziggy Marley and Snoop Dogg all came to jam with Willie and give him birthday props. Hollywood stars Owen Wilson, Helen Mirren, Ethan Hawke and Jennifer Garner all handled MC and introduction duties.
It’s a testament to the universal appeal of the Red-Headed Stranger that this diverse group of musicians all took the time to come out and play his party. Not to mention that if you put Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg in the same place — I’m sure anyone who even just drove by the Hollywood Bowl got a contact high from all the weed. It must have been one hell of a party. Happy 90th, Willie!