|TUESDAY 8 MARCH 2022||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Ed Sheeran said in the high court yesterday that - while he is influenced by other songs when writing his own music - he is not a "magpie" that routinely lifts elements of those existing songs without permission. And where one of his songs does arguably share a musical element with an existing work, he goes out of his way to clear and credit the original... [READ MORE]|
Ed Sheeran testifies in Shape Of You song-theft dispute
Meanwhile, he settled an earlier song-theft lawsuit over his song 'Photograph' out of court not because he thought he was liable for copyright infringement, but because he was advised it was the easiest way to move beyond that particular dispute.
All of this was said as the musician gave testimony as part of the song-theft legal battle in the UK courts over his song 'Shape Of You'. He and is collaborators are accused of ripping off the earlier track 'Oh Why' by Sami Chokri and Ross O'Donoghue when they wrote their 2017 hit.
It was the lawyer repping Chokri and O'Donoghue - Andrew Sutcliffe - who dubbed Sheeran a musical "magpie" as this case got underway on Friday. "Ed Sheeran is undeniably very talented", he said. "He is a genius. But he is also a magpie. He borrows ideas and throws them into his songs".
The legal man then argued that whenever Sheeran borrows from famous songs by famous writers he cuts a deal with the people behind the earlier work, noting that such a deal was done in relation to 'Shape Of You' with the writers of TLC's 1999 hit 'No Scrubs'. However, when the musician borrows from lesser known songs by lesser known artists, he is much less likely to acknowledge the borrowing and do the deal.
Responding to those claims, Sheeran conceded that he - like any songwriter - is influenced by earlier works. However, he argued, he goes out of his way to be fair to other songwriters, however famous they may or may not be.
According to the BBC, Sheeran said: "I have always tried to be completely fair in crediting anyone who makes any contribution to any song I write. I do refer to other works on occasion when I write, as do many songwriters. If there is a reference to another work, I notify my team so that steps can be taken to obtain clearance".
"I have been as scrupulous as I possibly can and have even given credits to people who I believe may have been no more than a mere influence for a songwriting element", he went on. "This is because I want to treat other songwriters fairly".
And that includes giving credit to lesser-known artists and songwriters, he added. He shared credit with lesser-known acts like Shivers and Visiting Hours, he said, and he'd acknowledged an "unknown composer's" work from 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'. "All those examples are not famous artists that we've cleared songs with and that's what I have to say on that", he concluded.
The Sheeran side has insisted throughout this dispute that neither he nor his collaborators have any recollection of hearing 'Oh Why' before writing 'Shape Of You'. They also argue that the contested part of Sheeran's hit is "very short" and that the elements shared by the two songs are "entirely commonplace".
During yesterday's hearing, Sheeran also discussed his creative process which - he argued - had changed over the years, so that rather than storing up ideas for a song over a period of time, the songwriting process is now much more spontaneous. Thus it's unlikely that he had heard Chokri's 2015 track and formally noted down some ideas from it for use in subsequent songwriting sessions.
According to The Guardian, Sheeran said of his current songwriting: "There is no pre-mediated thought process, I simply make things up as I go along - and if it sounds good, I keep it. I think of them as sort of 'excitement bottles' - if a song is working, the excitement pushes it to the point where it's finished; if it's not, then I'll leave it and move on to something else".
That speedy process, he added, meant that a recent week-long songwriting session with The National's Aaron Dessner resulted in 25 songs.
That may be so today, Sutcliffe responded. But, according to Law360, he argued, "the evidence is overwhelming that, at the time of writing 'Shape Of You', your songwriting process involved collecting ideas". Sheeran did not concur, however. "You say it's overwhelming, I don't agree with that", he responded.
Sheeran also dismissed the suggestion that he must have heard Chokri's earlier track, because both artists were championed by SBTV, and they had friends in common. Maybe SBTV founder Jamal Edwards - a close friend of Sheeran - had tipped him off about 'Oh Why'. But that wasn't likely, Sheeran countered, because he and Edwards, who died last month, talked much more about football, theatre and family than music.
As part of Sutcliffe's narrative that Sheeran is a musical "magpie", the lawyer has also referenced previous legal disputes in the US in which the musician has been accused of song theft.
One of those - relating to 'Thinking Out Loud' - continues to go through the motions. But another - where Sheeran was accused of ripping off Matt Cardle track 'Amazing' on his song 'Photograph' - was settled out of court.
Sheeran settled, Sutcliffe argued, because he knew he would lose if that dispute proceeded to trial. And in order to settle, the Sheeran side agreed to pay $5.2 million in damages and hand over 35% of the copyright in the 'Photograph' song.
But, Sheeran said, he settled that case because it was becoming a "nuisance", not because he believed he had infringed 'Amazing' when writing 'Photograph'. And he was advised by his lawyers that agreeing to the sizeable damages settlement was the easiest way out .
"Even though I felt that I had done nothing wrong, we decided to settle the case because of the money and time it would take to fight it", he told the court. "However, that left me with a very bad feeling afterwards. The decision to settle felt morally weird given that we were innocent of the allegations made. It made me feel like I did not want to play the song any more".
The case continues.
Sam Smith and Normani accused of song-theft over Dancing With A Stranger
The earlier track was a collaboration between artist Jordan Vincent and producer Christopher Miranda, the latter part of production duo SKX with Rosco Banlaoi. And, they all claim, the Smith/Normani song shares a lot more with their work than merely a title.
"The hook/chorus in both songs - the most significant part and artistic aspect of these works - contains the lyrics 'dancing with a stranger' being sung over a nearly identical melody and musical composition", a lawsuit filed with the Californian courts states. "In both songs, the title, hook, chorus, lyrics, and musical composition are all the same - and are repeated throughout the song giving both songs their identities".
"It is beyond any real doubt that Smith, Normani and the other defendants copied plaintiff's work", the lawsuit goes on. "The protected expression in both the infringing song and plaintiff's pre-existing work is nearly identical and is strikingly similar".
And they are even more strikingly similar if you tweak the Smith/Normani track so that it's at the same BMP as Vincent's record. "It is a common practice in music production to take a reference track and speed it up or slow it down", the lawsuit explains, adding: "This results in a natural pitch shift which places it in a different key more suited to a particular singer".
"Tellingly", it adds, "when plaintiff's song is slowed down from 122 BPM to the 103 BPM used by the infringing song, the key of the two songs match. This is a further indication that plaintiff's song was copied by defendants and that they are substantially similar".
Not only are the two tracks "strikingly similar", according to the plaintiffs, but the video for the Smith/Normani hit is seemed heavily influenced by the video for Vincent's track too.
"Both videos consist of a girl performing interpretive dance alone in a minimalist studio", the lawsuit notes, the dancing being interspersed with shots of each track's main vocalist. "A girl dancing alone is not an obvious visual theme for a music video titled 'Dancing With A Stranger', tending to dispel any notion that this similarity is a coincidence".
"When the extraordinary musical similarity between the songs is also factored in, it becomes even more apparent that it is impossible that the infringing composition and sound recording were independently created", the lawsuit then argues.
Of course, song theft cases of this kind also need an explanation for how the creators of the latter track might have heard the earlier work. Vincent's 'Dancing With A Stranger' was uploaded to SoundCloud in 2016, and then to YouTube and all the streaming services in 2017. However, it was also shopped around the music industry and - the lawsuit claims - may well have reached Normani's people via that process.
In particular, the lawsuit cites talks in 2015 with a label called Thrive Records which was interested in using the Vincent/Miranda song for another artist. That deal never came to fruition, but the lawsuit says that the label's owner - and other people involved in those talks - knew Normani's management, or had connections with her former group Fifth Harmony.
Expanding on the theory that Normani's team got access to the original 'Dancing With A Stranger' via Thrive Records, the lawsuit also claims that the label suddenly got back in touch with Vincent and Miranda in May/June 2020 looking to buy the rights in their song.
Given Smith and Normani's 'Dancing With A Stranger' was already a hit by that point, it's implied that maybe, at that stage, Thrive Records was trying to pre-empt any future copyright claim by Vincent et al by buying up the rights in the earlier work.
With all that in mind, Vincent, Miranda and Banlaoi would like some lovely damages. And if you want to compare the two tracks and their videos, the lawyer leading on the case for the plaintiffs has put together a nice little comparison video for you.
PRS For Music suspends links with Russian counterpart
In a statement, the society says: "PRS For Music has today formally suspended, with immediate effect, our rights representation relationship with RAO, the Russian collecting society for musical works, pending confirmation of its separation from the Russian government and those individuals and companies on the sanctions lists. We are also working with CISAC to consider the ongoing membership of Russian societies in the global network".
"It is not our desire to punish the Russian composer, songwriter and publisher communities who support peace, and we will work with the global community to identify opportunities to amplify the voices of protest", it goes on. "We will [also] be contacting all our members based in the Ukraine to offer our support in their time of need and are working with PRS Members' Fund to make financial support available to them".
The move by PRS follows protests and boycotts by numerous other music companies and artists. Many artists have cancelled upcoming shows in Russia, while Live Nation has pulled out of the country entirely and Spotify has closed its Russian office.
Rinse FM sanctioned by OfCom for playing Jay Electronica track with anti-semitic lyrics
Jay Electronica has been accused of including anti-semitic lyrics in his music in the past - and that includes some of the lines in 2014 track 'Better In Tune With The Infinite', which Rinse FM played in July 2020.
The track includes the lyrics: "The synagogues of Satan might accuse or jail me; Strip, crown, nail me, brimstone hail me; They might defeat the flesh but they could never ever kill me; They might can feel the music but could never ever feel me; To the lawyers, to the sheriffs, to the judges; To the debt holders and the law makers; Fuck you, sue me, bill me".
Rinse FM played an edit of the track which had the swear word bleeped out, but the rest of the lyrics were unedited and were aired without comment. As a result, OfCom concluded, "these lyrics would have been understood by some listeners as suggesting that Jewish people are evil or worship the devil" and they "characterised Jewish people and Judaism in a negative and stereotypical light".
Going into more detail, OfCom also said: "The phrase 'synagogues of Satan' ... made an explicit association between Jewish places of worship and Satan, and therefore was likely to have been understood by UK listeners as suggesting that Jewish people are evil or worship the devil".
"The lyrics which followed - 'Strip, crown, nail me, brimstone hail me' - when juxtaposed with the reference to 'synagogues of Satan'", it added, "may have evoked for UK listeners the antisemitic allegation that Jewish people are collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ".
And finally: "In the context of the above lyrics, the lyrics, 'To the lawyers, to the sheriffs, to the judges; To the debt holders and the law makers', whom the artist addresses with '[Bleep] you, sue me, bill me', may have been interpreted by some UK listeners as evoking a common derogatory stereotype about Jewish people being disproportionately in control of businesses, economic systems and other influential institutions".
With all that in mind, OfCom said, by playing the track without edits or comment Rinse FM had aired content that "contained uncontextualised hate speech, and derogatory and abusive treatment towards Jewish people, and was therefore also potentially offensive and not sufficiently justified by the context". All of which meant the station had breached OfCom rules.
For its part, Rinse FM countered that the Jay Electronica lyrics were open to interpretation. In its report, OfCom said: "Rinse FM and the presenter argued that the lyrics 'synagogues of Satan' were drawn from the Bible and therefore they contained no 'negative connotations towards Jewish people or any particular religion'. However, OfCom considered that it was unlikely that UK listeners would be familiar with this context and that the programme did not explain it".
"We also considered that the phrase 'synagogue of Satan' has often been taken out of its original Biblical context and used as a form of abuse of Jewish people and Judaism", it went on. "We therefore did not accept that the Biblical origins of the phrase would mitigate the antisemitic content included in the lyrics".
"Rinse FM also argued that the lyrics were a metaphor for the artist expressing his 'struggles' and personal challenges in his life and career in the music industry", the OfCom report added. "While OfCom accepted that the lyrics supported this possible interpretation and that a personal account of struggle is a legitimate subject for the artist's creative expression, we did not consider that it would have mitigated the antisemitic content in the lyrics".
OfCom made its initial decision regarding Rinse FM's airing of 'Better In Tune With The Infinite' last July. Then in October, Rinse FM said that it didn't feel it had been able to properly represent its arguments regarding its playing of the track because OfCom's investigation "had not had sufficient regard for the size and scale of Rinse FM's operations and the resources available to it to defend its position, which it said were not comparable to those of larger licensees, particularly in light of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic".
However, in its new ruling, OfCom rejects that argument. "We consider that Rinse FM was treated fairly during the investigation process and in line with OfCom's procedures for investigating breaches of content standards for television and radio. During the investigation process, the licensee made representations in response to OfCom's request for formal comments [and] it was given the opportunity to respond to OfCom's preliminary view on the breaches".
All that said, despite standing by its investigative process and upholding last year's decision that Rinse FM breached broadcasting rules by playing 'Better In Tune With The Infinite', the regulator has decided against the more severe sanctions it can instigate in such scenarios.
That is partly because Rinse FM is a smaller community station with limited resources, but also because of commitments it has made to ensure such breaches do not happen again, and because the regulator conceded that this particular breach - although serious - was not "reckless, deliberate or repeated".
Therefore, OfCom concluded: "Having considered the representations made to us, OfCom has decided to direct the licensee to broadcast a statement of OfCom's findings on a date and in a form to be determined by OfCom".
Musicians' Union elects Naomi Pohl as first female leader
"I am delighted and humbled to have been elected to the role of MU General Secretary", she says in a statement. "It means a great deal that musicians across genres and disciplines have put their faith in me and I want nothing more than to deliver for them all. To musicians who have been under-represented by the union in the past and saw this election as an opportunity for positive change, I am here to listen and make sure your voices are heard. I will make myself available and ensure I am present in the spaces where you work".
"Thank you to all members who engaged with the election process, took the time to vote and who reached out to me directly with feedback about the union", she goes on. "To all those who didn't vote for me, I hear that you want change. The union is here for every musician, and I hope it can be a unifying force as we take on many challenges collectively - please reach out".
On the job now facing her, she continues: "After the toughest imaginable two years for musicians, there is plenty of work to do. We can improve pay for our employed and freelance members post-pandemic, tackle the impact of Brexit and fix streaming. We will also ensure we meet the objectives set out in the MU Equality Action Plan, in the UK Music Diversity Ten Point Plan, and we will continue our vital work to eliminate discrimination and harassment from the industry".
"In order to secure the future of the profession, we will also launch a new music education campaign and move arts funding back up the union's lobbying agenda during my term", she adds. "I know these are issues that really matter to musicians".
Pohl succeeds Horace Trubridge, who took up the General Secretary role in 2017 following John Smith, who had headed up the union for fifteen years. Originally elected for a five year stint, to the end of this month, in 2020 the union extended Trubridge's term to 2025. However, following a complaint by a member, and upon legal advice, his original term was then reinstated.
Trubridge decided not to stand for re-election, with Pohl, currently Deputy General Secretary, as well as Regional Organiser For The Midlands Stephen Brown, and Orchestras Official Morris Stemp, all standing to replace him. Voting closed yesterday.
Welcoming Pohl's election, Trubridge says: "It's been an honour and a privilege to lead the union for the last five years, ably assisted by Naomi and Assistant General Secretary Phil Kear. I have had the pleasure of promoting Naomi up through the ranks and I am delighted to hear that she has won the election to become the MU's very first female General Secretary".
Trubridge's term as General Secretary officially comes to an end on 27 Mar.
Superorganism announce second album, World Wide Pop
The album's first single, 'Teenager', featuring Chai and Pi Ja Ma, is out now. Watch the video here.
In support of the album, the band will also be touring in the UK in September. Tickets go on general sale on 17 Mar. Here are all the dates:
16 Sep: Brighton, Chalk
Tom March has been named President of Geffen Records, which was relaunched within Universal Music's Interscope division in the US two years ago. The appointment sees March move over from the major's UK business and its Polydor label. "Tom has a proven track record of breaking new artists and shares our commitment to artist development", says Interscope Geffen A&M CEO John Janick. "He is the perfect executive to lead a Geffen team that has already done such an amazing job these last two years".
Music NFT company Serenade has appointed YMU MD Ian Watt as Chair of its advisory board. It also has a load of new investors including Atlantic Records' Damian Christian, Silva Screen Records' Reynold D'Silva, Lunatic Entertainment's Danny Rogers, Powderfinger's Bernard Fanning, Paul Piticco and Jessica Ducrou of Splendour In The Grass/Secret Sounds, Unified Music's Jaddan Comerford, Future Classic's Nathan McLay, Warner Music's Dan Rosen, Afterpay's David Hancock and actor Hugh Jackman.
Talent agency UTA has hired London-based Gordon Egwu as A&R Consultant. "I'm really excited to get stuck into such a bespoke role and with my music background, having worn many a hat in the business, I hope to see things from a unique enough perspective and to find new opportunities", he says.
Beyonce's agent Joe Hadley is leaving CAA to take up a new role at Spotify as Global Head Of Artist And Audience Partnerships, Billboard has confirmed.
Florence And The Machine have released new single 'Heaven Is Here'.
Nina Nesbitt has released the video for 'When You Lose Someone'.
Kae Tempest has released new single 'No Prizes', featuring Lianna La Havas. "So grateful for [La Havas's] voice in the world and on this record", says Tempest. "A portrait of three people getting on with getting on. I just got to keep climbing".
Midlake have released new song 'Noble'. New album, 'For The Sake Of Bethel Woods', is out on 18 Mar.
Jenny Hval has released new single 'Freedom', from her new album 'Classic Objects', which is out this week. "I don't know what freedom is", she says. "This song doesn't either. The lyrics are bombastic and silly, as if written by a political folk song generator. Nonetheless the song was needed on my record - I needed something short and sweet after a series of long, layered reflections".
Horace Andy has released new single 'Try Love'.
Ibibio Sound Machine are back with new single '17 18 19'.
GIGS & TOURS
Lady Gaga has announced that her long postponed Chromatica Ball show in London will now take place at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 29 Jul. She'll also now play a second show at the same venue on 30 Jul.
The Prodigy have announced their first tour since the death of vocalist Keith Flint in 2019, finishing with a three night run at London's Brixton Academy from 21-23 Jul. "We can't wait to get back on stage and play our tunes for people again" say the band. "This one's for Flinty. Now, let's fukin go!" Tickets go on general sale on Friday.
Phoebe Bridgers has added UK and Ireland dates to her touring schedule, including a show at Brixton Academy on 26 Jul. Tickets go on sale Friday.
Wet Leg have announced another round of UK tour dates in November, including a show at the Kentish Town Forum in London on 23 Nov. Tickets go on general sale on Friday.
Joan As Police Woman has announced a run of UK shows, including a performance at the Alexandra Palace Theatre in London on 15 Jun. She also has a sold out Union Chapel show coming up at the end of this month.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Kanye West's Donda 2 deemed ineligible for Billboard charts
West, of course, announced last month that his latest album would only be available to people who bought his $200 MP3 player devices, which add extra functionality for remixing tracks. In a later Instagram post he said that since the devices were launched last August, he'd sold 39,500 of them, earning him more than $8 million in total - $2 million of that in the 24 hours after he announced that 'Donda 2' wouldn't be available on any digital music services.
It's unlikely that West is shifting enough Stem Player units to make any big impact on the charts anyway, but Billboard and its sales counting buddies at MRC Data have announced that, whatever, the album isn't chart eligible anyway.
According to Billboard, the album release falls foul of rules introduced in 2020 which deemed that albums sold along with merch or tickets wouldn't go towards boosting an artist's sales position. This followed controversy about artists bundling albums with other products to appeal to fans when an album download on its own wasn't really of interest.
However, Billboard has not ruled out including Stem Player sales down the line, saying that because the devices are so new, it is still monitoring their evolution and will consider whether or not albums bundled with them should be counted toward chart positions in the future. Although, unless West starts shifting more significant numbers - or all artists start selling their albums on expensive MP3 player devices - it's probably not going to make a huge amount of difference either way.
You might think that this is all a moot point, given that we're a couple of weeks on from the initial release of 'Donda 2' anyway. Although there's still some question over whether or not 'Donda 2' has actually been released yet. The version put out last month did seem like it was unfinished and was billed as 'V22.2.22 Miami'. So we may as yet see another version come out.
Anyway, even if West doesn't score a Billboard chart position with his new album, he's done alright on other charts already. 'Donda 2' immediately went to the top of the global piracy charts upon its release, and a fake version of the album did well on iTunes.