Copyright lawsuits against world renowned artists won’t stop!

By Rodrigo Falcón | 28-Jun-2022

On past days, composer and singer Ed Sheeran won a UK High Court copyright battle initiated by musician Sami Chokri, who claimed that Sheeran’s 2017 hit ‘Shape of You’ included a “strikingly similar” hook to his 2015 song ‘Oh Why’.

The honorable Justice in charge of this case ruled that Sheeran had not copied Chokri’s song and determined that even though there were some similarities between the disputed phrases, differences between the other relevant parts of the songs provided compelling evidence that the “Oh I” hook in Sheeran’s song originated from sources other than ‘Oh Why’.

Sheeran’s case was resolved days apart from a copyright appeal case won by Katy Perry, whose attorneys managed to convince a US court of appeals to refuse the reinsertion of the original verdict that forced Perry to pay USD $2.8 million to artist Marcus Gray (a.k.a. Flame), who in previous stages alleged that the pop singer copied his track ‘Joyful Noise’ to create her hit song ‘Dark Horse’

Both cases were resolved based mainly on one determinative argument since both defendants (Sheeran and Perry) proved that the similarities in the confronted songs were originated purely out of coincidence, since the resemblance at issue consisted entirely of ordinary and common musical elements, and the similarities between them did not arise out of an original combination of these elements.

Sheeran argued: “Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day on Spotify.

That’s 22 million songs a year and there are only 12 notes that are available”, while Perry’s case Court determined that “Allowing a copyright over this material would essentially amount to allowing an improper monopoly over two-note pitch sequences or even the minor scale itself, especially in light of the limited number of expressive choices available when it comes to an eight-note repeated musical figure.”

Another determining point, at least for Sheeran’s case, was the fact that Chokri (the plaintiff) failed to prove that Sheeran listened to his song prior to the creation of ‘Shape of You’, which according to the honorable Justice Antony Zacaroli was a vital requirement for the copyright infringement to be proved.

The focus is now on Dua Lipa’s copyright cases, which include two separate lawsuits initiated by different artists who contested the creative origin of Lipa’s biggest hit ‘Levitating’ based on two distinct songs.

First, American reggae group Artikal Sound System filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles alleging the song ‘Levitating’ could not have been composed without inspiration of their 2017 song ‘Live Your Life’.

Later, music composers L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer also questioned the originality of Lipa’s song through a lawsuit filed in Manhattan, claiming the British artist plagiarized the melody of their 1979 song ‘Wiggle And Giggle All Night’.

Both lawsuits are looking for a high-profile compensation, alongside a portion of the earnings the song has generated since it was launched, which, just as a reference, has been played on Spotify over 1.8 billion times.

In several interviews Dua Lipa has confessed that her album “Future Nostalgia”, which includes the disputed song, was inspired on passed times while looking for a retro sound.

However, the singer-songwriter has not yet provided a response against the mentioned claims, as she is now focused on her “Future Nostalgia” worldwide tour.

The cases will most likely be resolved through forensic musicology analysis to determine the degree of similarity on the disputed songs, and we can expect the defendants´ legal teams to rely on similar arguments as those presented in Sheeran’s and Perry’s cases regarding the limited number of notes and note combinations available in music.

Copyright high-profile cases like these have been recurrent since the beginning of the music industry, but it seems that the everyday increasing number of songs available through streaming platforms and the unequal amount of money distributed amongst all the intervening parties is ultimately resulting in an increased number of cases filed.

The question arises on if these claims are based on real similarities between songs and copyrighted material, or if they are just opportunist claims to obtain non-justified compensations.

What do you think?

Rodrigo Falcón
IP Attorney |
Litigation, Entertainment Law, Copyright, Contracts
Rodrigo has written and participated in several articles and essays about Entertainment and Copyright Law. As an Iberbrander, he has been involved in several matters related to intellectual property rights. He is in charge of Iberbrand's® "On Your Marks" editorial section.
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