Some cases of plagiarism make it to the courts, as in “The Chiffons and Ronald Mack vs. George Harrison”
George Harrison’s first solo recording and number 1 hit was “My Sweet Lord” in 1970, which sounded unmistakeably like “He’s so Fine,” which was written by Ronald Mack and recorded by the Chiffons in 1963.
In 1971, Harrison was sued for copyright infringement and was ultimately found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism,” and ordered to pay $1,599,987 to publisher Bright Tunes. Mack had died in 1963.
‘Girl From North Country’ is considered a masterpiece of Dyaln’s early work. Featuring on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the song was perfected alongside Johnny Cash a decade later. While speculation abounds about who the girl in question is, the song is built out of a melody that is found in Carthy’s version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ and even lifts the lyric, “Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine,” directly from the song.
It is said that Dylan heard Carthy’s version of the song while travelling around Britain in 1962 and used the melody to underpin his new song. It would be such a wonderful tune that the singer-songwriter would use it once more with the The Times They Are-A Changin’ song ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’.
Millions for BD, nothing for MC.
“Bob Dylan’s Dream” is another of his songs which was transported for a time in his mind before being written down. It was initially set off after all-night conversation between Dylan and Oscar Brown, Jr., in Greenwich Village. “Oscar,” says Dylan, “is a groovy guy and the idea of this came from what we were talking about.” The song slumbered, however, until Dylan went to England in the winter of 1962. There he heard a singer (whose name he recalls as Martin Carthy) perform “Lord Franklin,” and that old melody found a new adapted home in “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” The song is a fond looking back at the easy camaraderie and idealism of the young when they are young. There is also in the “Dream” a wry but sad requiem for the friendships that have evaporated as different routes, geographical and otherwise, are taken.
Millions for BD and an ack for MC (as is usual in the folk music world).
Heirs of Gaye’s co-writer, Ed Townsend, argue that Sheeran, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Publishing owe them money for allegedly stealing the song. Seeking $100m (£90m) in damages, they allege that Sheeran and his co-writer Amy Wadge “copied and exploited, without authorisation or credit” the Gaye song, “including but not limited to the melody, rhythms, harmonies, drums, bass line, backing chorus, tempo, syncopation and looping”.
The Grammy winner, 32, testified that he did not copy from Gaye’s 1973 hit.
The trial is expected to last at least one week. If the jury finds the pop star liable for copyright infringement, the trial will enter a second phase to determine how much he owes.
Lawyer Keisha Rice about another song he wrote, Take it Back, which contains the lyrics “plagiarism is hidden”, Sheeran confirmed that he had written the words. Rice went on to ask him about concert footage recorded in Zurich showing him mixing lyrics from Gaye’s song with Thinking Out Loud. (1)
Earlier on Tuesday, Sheeran’s lawyer argued that both songs are distinct from each other and that no artist should be allowed to “monopolise” commonly used musical chord progressions.
The latest trial comes one year after Sheeran was cleared at a trial in London of claims he copied his hit song Shape Of You.
Various expert musicologists, are expected to testify at the New York trial.
This is not the only trial Sheeran is facing over Thinking Out Loud, which went to number one in the UK in 2014 and won song of the year at the Grammy Awards in 2016.
SAS (Structured Asset Sales), which has acquired a portion of the estate of Let’s Get It On co-writer Ed Townsend, has filed a second case, which is currently on pause, while a separate suit by another portion of Townsend’s estate is awaiting trial.
Analysis of the songs in Ed Sheeran’s case for Thinking out loud
Marvin Gaye’s family is trying to prove that 4 chords that are similar prove that the songs are similar.
Ed Sheeran won his case of copyright infringement for Shape of you.
Marvin Gaye’s family won millions in the Blurred Lines case against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke. That case was very technical and had some to do with the miscommunication between Pharrell and Robin in how they talked about the song.
As an aside, Marvin Gaye was killed by his father in an argument. At the end of his life, he had been running from the IRS for unpaid debts.
… and he uses a word which I use a lot when I hear modern pop music - “derivative”. So many pop “stars” say that they’ve been “influenced by” but, to me, they’re little people standing on the shoulders of giants.
There are many articles discussing the increasing homogenisation op pop music , including:
In a recent study, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna in Austria studied 15 genres and 374 subgenres. They rated the genre’s complexity over time — measured by researchers in purely quantitative aspects, such as timbre and acoustical variations — and compared that to the genre’s sales. They found that in nearly every case, as genres increase in popularity, they also become more generic.
“This can be interpreted,” the researchers write, “as music becoming increasingly formulaic in terms of instrumentation under increasing sales numbers due to a tendency to popularize music styles with low variety and musicians with similar skills.”
The findings are somewhat intuitive. Of course a genre will sell more once it forms an established sound that listeners can identify with. But the science is only proving the now-dominant truth of pop music: Record companies are only comfortable promoting things they already know will sell. And they know that now better than ever.
Record labels are pouring resources into data analysis tools, using them to predict which songs will be the next breakout hit. According to Derek Thompson at the Atlantic, executives can use services like Shazam and HitPredictor to see which songs will break out next with surprising accuracy.