A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but it seems that a photograph could cost $20 million. On Wednesday, June 8, Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard filed documents in California suing Ed Sheeran and others for copyright infringement, regarding the 2015 hit song “Photograph.” The BBC reports.
The duo claims that Sheeran’s hit “Photograph” is too structurally similar to their song, “Amazing.” They claim that the chorus, in particular, follows a nearly identical note and chord progression. As part of the court documents, Harrington and Leonard included note progressions for both songs. They claim that “Photograph” shares 39 notes with “Amazing.” Additionally, court documents claim that, “Given the striking similarity between the chorus of Amazing and Photograph, (the) defendants knew when writing, publishing, recording, releasing, and distributing Photograph that they were infringing on a pre-existing musical composition. The conduct of (the) defendants has been wilful from the inception of the creation of Photograph.” They continued, “The copying of Amazing by Photograph is breathtaking in its deliberateness, magnitude, and hubris.” The lawsuit names the songwriters as well as Sony Music and some of it’s affiliates and is requesting royalties and credit as well as the astonishing sum.
Harrington and Leonard claim to have penned “Amazing” in 2009. It was released in 2012 by X Factor winner Matt Cardle. It has received over one million views on YouTube. Harrington has written tracks for Emma Bunton, 5ive, and Kylie Minogue. He has also worked with Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Westlife, Busted, Atomic Kitten, and Blue. Leonard has worked with the Backstreet Boys, Zero 7, and Echosmith.
“Photograph,” on the other hand, was written by Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. It was the fifth track on Sheeran’s 2014 album, X, which is pronounced “Multiply.” Since its release, the song has received over 200 million views on YouTube, and has sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide. The song is also featured in both the movie and the trailers for Me Before You, which was released last week. Sheeran is incredibly proud of and hopeful for this song, and claimed that he believed that it would be the song that would change his career path.
Harrington and Leonard have retained lawyer Richard Busch for their lawsuit against Ed Sheeran. Busch gained prominence last year when he won a lawsuit filed by the family of the late Marvin Gaye. The lawsuit was filed against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke in regards to the hit “Blurred Lines,” and was settled for $7.4 million dollars. According to CBS News, Matt Belloni of the Hollywood Reporter states that case paved the way for, and increased awareness of, copyright infringement in music.
“I think that case has been very influential in getting attorneys interested in pursuing these claims,” he said. In fact, numerous copyright infringement claims have followed, including Sam Smith, Justin Bieber, and Led Zeppelin, who are expecting to go to trial later this month regarding a lawsuit over the hit song, “Stairway to Heaven.” So, while there is definitely precedent, the road to a settlement will not be easy. In order to prove their case, the plaintiffs “have to show access — that there was some exposure of one song to another,” said entertainment attorney Ken Abdo. “And the substantial similarity will be established by listening to the song and look at how it lays out as a composition.”
Ed Sheeran’s manager has not commented at this time. Matt Cardil, on the other hand, is distancing himself from the suit. He recently Tweeted, “This is not my lawsuit. I think @edsheeran is a genius & 100% deserves all his success.”