TODAY'S TOP STORY: Ed Sheeran further discussed his creative process in the high court in London yesterday as the song-theft legal battle over his 2017 hit 'Shape Of You' continued. He also revealed how his team usually deal with songs he's written that contain elements in common with old songs - a process that may or may not have been applied to the unreleased Sheeran track that got an unintended airing as yesterday's court proceedings went through the motions... [READ MORE]

TOP STORIES Musical "magpie" Ed Sheeran is also a "music squirrel", says lawyer in Shape Of You song-theft case
LEGAL German rights organisation backs hosting company Uberspace in youtube-dl dispute with the majors
DEALS Ellie Dixon signs to Decca
LABELS & PUBLISHERS Universal Music suspends all operations in Russia
PPL to provide international royalty distribution services to Icelandic collecting society

LIVE BUSINESS Safer Spaces to offer sexual violence support for women at festivals
ARTIST NEWS Travis Scott to fund event safety initiatives following Astroworld tragedy
AND FINALLY... LimeWire to relaunch as NFT marketplace
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Musical "magpie" Ed Sheeran is also a "music squirrel", says lawyer in Shape Of You song-theft case
Ed Sheeran further discussed his creative process in the high court in London yesterday as the song-theft legal battle over his 2017 hit 'Shape Of You' continued. He also revealed how his team usually deal with songs he's written that contain elements in common with old songs - a process that may or may not have been applied to the unreleased Sheeran track that got an unintended airing as yesterday's court proceedings went through the motions.

Sheeran and his songwriting collaborators are accused of ripping off the earlier track 'Oh Why' by Sami Chokri and Ross O'Donoghue when they wrote their 2017 hit. But Sheeran et al deny having ever heard of 'Oh Why' before writing 'Shape Of You', and counter that the elements shared by the two songs are pretty commonplace in pop music.

The legal rep for Chokri and O'Donoghue - Andrew Sutcliffe - previously called Sheeran a musical "magpie" who routinely nabs bits of existing songs to slot into his new music. Although yesterday Sutcliffe declared that Sheeran was, in fact, a "music squirrel" who is constantly consuming music, squirrelling away the best bits to inform his own creative process.

That followed up from Monday's discussion of the process Sheeran goes through when writing new songs. The musician admitted that in the early days he built up ideas for his songs over a period of time, but insisted that in more recent years his songwriting has become much more spontaneous.

This made it less likely that Sheeran had heard 'Oh Why' in 2015, logged some ideas he nabbed from the track, and then utilised those ideas when writing 'Shape Of You' the following year.

But what if music squirrel Sheeran - "voraciously" consuming new music throughout 2015 and 2016 - had found himself nodding along to 'Oh Why', then squirrelled away his favourite elements of the track into the musical oak tree in his creative mind, before subconsciously including them in 'Shape Of You'?

That's highly unlikely, Sheeran insisted in court yesterday, not least because he basically went off grid in the year before writing 'Shape Of You' in autumn 2016, cutting himself off from both social media and all the new music being circulated online at that time.

Elsewhere yesterday, Sheeran discussed in more detail the argument that the elements that 'Shape Of You' and 'Oh Why' share are commonplace in pop music, an argument that has been key in many of the recent song-theft legal battles.

According to the BBC, when asked if his song and Chokri's song had very similar melodies, Sheeran said: "Fundamentally, yes. They are based around the minor pentatonic scale [and] they both have vowels in them". However, he insisted, that wasn't because he had Chokri's track in his mind when writing his hit.

To illustrate that that melody is common place in pop music he sang elements of other songs where it can be heard, like 'Feeling Good' and Blackstreet track 'No Diggity'. "If you put them all in the same key, they'll sound the same", he added. In fact, Sheeran also admitted, while writing 'Shape Of You' he had actually realised that the song was a little too close to 'No Diggity'.

That's why, in audio excerpts from the 'Shape Of You' recording sessions, Sheeran can be heard suggesting a key part of the song's melody be changed because it was "a bit close to the bone". Sheeran told the court: "We thought it was a bit too close to a song called 'No Diggity' by Blackstreet. I said that ... we should change it".

And, the musician added, it wasn't just him who was monitoring whether his new songs were too similar to old songs. He told the court that a musicologist had reviewed the original version of 'Shape Of You' and identified similarities with Bill Withers song 'Grandma's Hands' and TLC track 'No Scrubs'.

Tweaks were made as a result, Sheeran confirmed, while the writers of 'No Scrubs' also got writer credits on his hit. That wasn't actually finalised until after the release of 'Shape Of You', of course. But, Sheeran insisted, his people had nevertheless approached the 'No Scrubs' writers prior to release, but they had not responded until after.

Throughout all this discussion some musical clips were played in the courtroom. Some of that, it turned out, was coming from the personal laptop of Sheeran collaborator Steve Mac. We know this because at one point a snippet of an unreleased Sheeran track was accidentally played.

"That's a song I wrote last January. How did you get that?" a frustrated Sheeran asked as that snippet played out in the courtroom.

We await to see which songwriters claim their songs were ripped off in that short snippet. Meanwhile, the 'Shape Of You' court case continues.


German rights organisation backs hosting company Uberspace in youtube-dl dispute with the majors
German organisation Gesellschaft Für Freiheitsrechte - which loosely translates as the Society For Liberties - has announced that it is backing server hosting company Uberspace in its battle with the major record companies over its hosting of the official web page for youtube-dl, the open-source download manager that facilitates stream-ripping.

The GFF has filed a defence on behalf of the hosting company with the Hamburg Regional Court in response to legal action by the music firms. That litigation, it argues, is "another attempt by the music industry to make legitimate internet activities - such as using download tools - illegal under the pretext of copyright".

Stream-ripping - services that allow people to grab permanent downloads of temporary streams - has been a top piracy gripe of the music industry for sometime now. As a result, music companies have been targeting stream-ripping websites and services with lawsuits and web-blocking injunctions. And, on occasion, have also targeted internet companies and platforms that are seen to be helping people access stream-ripping tools.

As part of that latter activity, in 2020 the music industry tried to get the code for youtube-dl - a software tool that enables stream ripping - removed from Github. Those attempts were initially successful but, after a mini-controversy, Github restored the code to its platform.

Concurrent to all that, the music industry also sent the Germany-based Uberspace a cease-and-desist letter, because it hosts the official web page of youtube-dl, even though the actual code isn't stored there. The labels wanted Uberspace to takedown the youtube-dl web page. But it refused, so earlier this year the labels actually went legal through the German courts.

Some argue that, because stream-ripping tools have legitimate as well as illegitimate uses - and don't actually host or distribute any content during the stream-ripping process - they can't be held liable for any copyright infringement they may inadvertently enable.

Which initially seems like a pretty reasonable position to take. Although it's worth noting, that was the argument used by most of the P2P file-sharing tools back in the early 2000s - and in the main that argument didn't usually stand up in court.

Also, many stream-ripping tools specifically connect to platforms like YouTube. And, copyright owners would usually argue, YouTube has content protection systems in place to stop people ripping content from their streams.

The stream-ripping tools deliberately circumvent those systems. And in many countries such circumvention is also prohibited by copyright law. Although the stream-rippers counter that YouTube's efforts to block stream-ripping are so modest they can't really be called a content protection system.

Meanwhile, you have the other debate about how far down the supply chain anti-piracy measures should go. Should Github be obliged to delete the youtube-dl code and Uberpsace the youtube-dl webpage on copyright grounds at the say so of the major record companies?

If the labels' lawsuit against Uberspace gets to court in Hamburg, these are likely to be among the topics for debate. And GFF will be there arguing that the copyright owners are going too far with their anti-piracy litigation, and in doing so are attacking the free speech and internet rights of German citizens.

Confirming in a blog post last week that it was helping Uberspace in this legal battle, the GFF wrote that the music industry's lawsuit is "unjustified because hosting providers only have to block obviously illegal content" once made aware of it, and, it reckons, "the download tool youtube-dl is legal [because] it allows videos to be downloaded from over a thousand websites without circumventing effective copy protection measures".

"The ability to legally download and edit video material from the internet is of central importance for the protection of freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and freedom of art", it added, arguing that without that ability "quotations, parodies and mashups are otherwise unthinkable".

Meanwhile, the organisation's copyright expert Felix Reda, said: "Important political and social discourses take place on YouTube. The media, civil society and creative people depend on being able to work with this content - copyright law also explicitly allows this. The entertainment industry must not succeed in its renewed attack on free software and neutral internet services".

GFF also said that it is supporting Uberspace - and another German internet service under pressure to do more to stop music piracy, that being DNS resolver Quad9 - because such organisations often aren't equipped to fight back against legal action from big copyright owners, meaning debates regarding the actual liabilities and responsibilities of those organisations never get judicial clarification.

"Due to the unequal positions of power and financial resources, such lawsuits put neutral internet providers like Uberspace under enormous pressure", GFF's blog post continued. "This creates the risk that network providers will block content on demand - and without judicial clarification - in order to avoid lawsuits and legal costs. That would be a threat to freedom of information".

It remains to be seen if this dispute actually gets to court and - if so - what way the German judges rule.


Ellie Dixon signs to Decca
Universal's Decca Records has announced the signing of pop musician and TikTok star Ellie Dixon.

"'I'm so happy to be signing with Decca Records", she says. "It was clear from the moment we met that they understood the music I make, who I am as an artist and shared the vision I had for my future in the music industry. As we got to know each other, I felt so much love and positive energy from the whole team - it's a perfect match really".

"It's also amazing to be partnering with a label that has so many incredibly talented and passionate women working across all departments", she goes on. "I have so many bonkers ideas that they are already fully supporting and throwing themselves right into - I can't wait to see what this exciting new chapter holds".

Decca Label Group co-Presidents Laura Monks and Tom Lewis add in one of those joint statements: "Ellie Dixon is the epitome of self-built. A true next generation artist thinking outside the confines of the traditional music market. She does it all, from writing and recording to mixing her self-released EP and directing all her own visuals".

"Her success to-date growing her global fanbase in mere months speaks of her amazing talent, abundant creativity and engaging personality", they continue. "We are extremely proud Ellie is joining the Decca family".

The EP they refer to is 'Crikey! It's My Psyche', which was released in October. Ahead of more new music, Dixon has a number of live dates upcoming, including supporting Casey Lowry at the Scala in London tonight, her own headline show at The Courtyard Theatre in London on 7 Apr, and a performance at The Great Escape on 13 May.

Being the social media star she is, Dixon has documented her signing online in - despite what I said earlier regarding the platform on which her stardom resides - an Instagram Reel.


Universal Music suspends all operations in Russia
Universal Music is the latest music company to confirm it is cutting its ties with Russia in protest at the ongoing war in Ukraine. The major is suspending its operations and closing its offices in Russia - which has been a key growth market for the record industry in recent years.

In a short statement, Universal Music said: "Effective immediately, we are suspending all operations in Russia and closing our offices there. We urge an end to the violence in Ukraine as soon as possible. We are adhering to international sanctions and, along with our employees and artists, have been working with groups from a range of countries to support humanitarian relief efforts to bring urgent aid to refugees in the region".

An increasing number of artists and music companies have confirmed they are officially boycotting Russia in protest at the country's invasion of Ukraine, including by cancelling shows that were due to take place in Russia, by closing offices in the country, and by cutting ties with former business partners in the market.

On the live side of the business, Live Nation and Oak View Group have both confirmed they are no longer doing business in Russia or with Russian companies, while Spotify has closed its Russian office.


PPL to provide international royalty distribution services to Icelandic collecting society
UK record industry collecting society PPL has announced a deal with its Icelandic counterpart, SFH, which will see the latter use the former's platform for distributing royalties it collects that are due to artists and labels outside of Iceland.

PPL says that, under the new partnership, it will "support SFH with the distribution of royalties to performers and recording rights-holders based outside of Iceland, helping to increase the amount of money distributed by SFH".

Basically, "SFH will send its airplay data to PPL, who will then identify the performers and recording rights-holders to pay by matching this data against recordings in its 20 million-strong repertoire database".

The UK society adds that it is confident its involvement in that process will make the payment of international royalties by the Icelandic society more accurate and efficient.

"Early analysis of SFH's airplay data shows that 97% of recordings played can be auto-matched to a corresponding track in PPL's database", it states, "with a further 2% having one or more corresponding tracks to manually match to".

Confirming the new partnership between PPL and SFH, the CEO of the former, Peter Leathem, says: "I am very happy that SFH have chosen PPL's Business Services to support the distribution of royalties to performers and recording rights-holders outside of Iceland. International royalty distributions can be difficult for smaller scale [collecting societies] because of the costs and complexities of building the systems and databases required to distribute monies effectively".

"For a fraction of the cost of such an investment", he goes on, "SFH can use PPL's existing market-leading technology and repertoire database, allowing it to accurately distribute money in full to performers and recording rights-holders around the world. Everyone benefits from this deal – the artists and labels who will receive fair royalty payment, and SFH, whose operations will be streamlined and improved".

Meanwhile SFH MD Gunnar Guðmundsson adds: "It is our aim at SFH to ensure we collect and distribute as much money as possible for the performers and recording rights-holders whose recordings are played in public in Iceland".

"By using PPL's Business Services offer, we can do this cheaply and effectively", he continues. "This not only leaves more money on the table to be distributed but also means more performers and recording rights-holders will be paid. We look forward to working closely with PPL and continuing to deliver a cutting-edge royalty collection and distribution service".

PPL already provides similar services to a number of other societies around the world, including AGATA in Lithuania, Audiogest in Portugal, EFÜ in Estonia, PPI in Ireland and SWISSPERFORM in Switzerland.


Safer Spaces to offer sexual violence support for women at festivals
With many festivals gearing up for their return this summer, Safer Spaces - a new initiative offering support and education around sexual violence, harassment and abuse against women at large-scale events - has announced its official launch.

Already confirmed to have a presence at a number of festivals in the UK and internationally this summer, Safer Spaces will have its own tent where women and girls can go to simply hang out, or report incidents in private and access professional support. Organisers say that they hope providing such facilities will help more women and girls feel equipped to report incidents.

"Safer Spaces wants to eradicate VAWG [violence against women and girls] and harassment throughout society by raising awareness, training professionals and members of the community to challenge behaviours, identify abuse and respond and support people who have experienced or been impacted by assault, abuse or harassment", says co-founder Anna MacGregor.

"As a country we are creating better services, structures and legislation to respond to VAWG, but it is not enough", she continues. "VAWG is a systemic and longstanding issue, embedded culturally and socially. We need to engage with people directly, creating safe spaces for women and girls and educating and challenging male violence".

She concludes: "Festivals, events and artists are uniquely positioned to really emphasise a zero tolerance approach and show women and girls that they are valued and that male violence is condemned".

YouGov research in 2018 found that one in five festival goers had experienced sexual assault or harassment at a festival, while two fifths of young female festival goers had been subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour.

There have been a number of calls in recent years for more to be done to tackle this issue at festivals and other large-scale events, including by Safe Spaces Now - launched last year by the Strawberries & Creem festival and campaign group UN Women UK - which penned an open letter to the live music sector and announced its own on-site initiatives.

You can find out more about Safer Spaces here.


CMU Insights: Streaming Business Explained Webinars 
The next series of live CMU webinars kicks off next week and provides a user-friendly guide to the digital music market - and all the many debates that have taken place over the last couple of years on the back of the #fixstreaming and #brokenrecord campaigns.

The series includes three sessions as follows...

Tuesday 15 Mar 2022 | 2.30pm
Streaming accounted for 62.1% of recorded music revenues in 2020 and the market continues to grow - but it is also evolving as new services and new kinds of services becoming increasingly important revenue generators. Find out more about the digital music market today and in the future.

Tuesday 22 Mar 2022 | 2.30pm
The streaming business is complex in terms of how services are licensed, and how artists and songwriters get paid. Get to grips with it all via our concise user-friendly guide to digital licensing and streaming royalties - explained in full in just ten steps.

Tuesday 29 Mar 2022 | 2.30pm 
Streaming is a revenue share game, with digital dollars shared out each month between artists, songwriters, labels and publishers. We explain how the money is currently split up and talk through why some people in the industry believe a different approach is needed.

Tickets for the full series are currently available at the special discount rate of £60 - click here for info.

Travis Scott to fund event safety initiatives following Astroworld tragedy
Travis Scott has announced the launch of a new philanthropic project called Project HEAL - which in part aims to improve safety at live events in the wake of last year's Astroworld tragedy.

Ten people died and hundreds more were injured last November following a crowd surge during Scott's headline set at the Houston-based festival he founded. There were criticisms of the response by organisers and Scott himself to the incident as it unfolded, including the fact that the rapper continued to perform for 30 minutes after a "mass casualty event" had been declared.

In a statement posted on Instagram, Scott said last night: "Over the past few months I've been taking the time and space to grieve, reflect and do my part to heal my community. Most importantly, I want to use my resources and platform moving forward towards actionable change. This will be a lifelong journey for me and my family".

"While it's easy for corporations and institutions to stay in the shadows, I feel as a leader in my community, I need to step up in times of need", he continued. "My team and I created Project HEAL to take much needed action towards supporting real solutions that make all events the safest spaces they can possibly be. I will always honour the victims of the Astroworld tragedy who remain in my heart forever".

"Giving back and creating opportunities for the youth is something I've always done and will continue to do as long as I have the chance", he concluded. "This programme will be a catalyst to real change and I can't wait to introduce the rest of the technology and ideas we've been working on".

Project HEAL will work in conjunction with Scott's existing Cactus Jack Foundation. On the event safety side, the team behind the project say that they will fund a new event safety task force within the US Conference Of Mayors and an already in-development technological device - details of which have not yet been made public.

In addition to this, the project will also fund a number of other projects supporting young black people in higher education, support services for young people's mental health needs, and an expansion of the existing CACT.US Youth Design Center at TXRX Labs in Houston.


LimeWire to relaunch as NFT marketplace
Just as Kanye West makes music piracy mainstream again, LimeWire is back. Perfect timing! Although, this time LimeWire is not actually aiming to be the scourge of the music industry. It's aiming to the scourge of the planet instead, by relaunching as a music-focussed NFT marketplace.

The all-new LimeWire reckons that the big problem with NFTs is that not enough people can access them because of the technical hurdles - not least needing to know how to get hold of some delicious cryptocurrency. So, when it launches in May, it will list prices for its music-centric NFTs in US dollars instead and then handle all the complicated tech stuff behind the scenes. So, you'll just be a credit card transaction away from pretending that you own a thing.

LimeWire is being relaunched by Vienna-based brothers Julian and Paul Zehetmayr - who are also behind a number of other online companies, including Eversign, ZeroSSL and Stack Holdings. According to Bloomberg, they've spent "most of last year steadily acquiring the various parts of LimeWire's branding".

And why not? What a brand to control! Well, apart from the whole it being the scourge of the music industry thing. But this time it's going to be the saviour of the music industry, see? Certainly the brand's new owners are keen to stress that the relaunched LimeWire will not be involved in any of the bad stuff, and will instead be offering artists some of the good stuff.

Julian Zehetmayr says: "In an increasingly difficult industry with streaming taking over and ownership taking a back seat, we are working to put artists [in control] and give them full flexibility and control when it comes to their content. It's important to note that we are not relaunching LimeWire as an alternative to streaming platforms, but rather as an additional channel for artists to sell exclusive music and art directly to collectors. We will also offer a unique method for artists to connect and engage with their most loyal community of fans".

Paul Zehetmayr adds: "The biggest challenge with digital collectibles and the broader crypto market in general is that it's really limited to a small group of savvy users. There are big players on the market already, but the entry barrier is still too big to allow for mainstream adoption".

"If you are an average music fan on the internet", he goes on, "you might not own any cryptocurrency or have access to a crypto wallet, let alone understand the mechanics of collectibles on the blockchain. We want to remove all those obstacles and make it easy for people to participate, while at the same time offering an exciting platform for crypto natives".

The company launches with several music industry figures on its advisory board, including General Manager of Wu-Tang Clan's Wu Music Group, Tareef Michael; former Def Jam A&R Pedro Genao; and artist managers Brett Fischer and Jeanine McLean.

This isn't the first attempt to use the LimeWire brand for a legit music service, of course. After realising that being a conduit for illegal file-sharing might not be a great long-term business (though tell that to The Pirate Bay), the original LimeWire company tried to pivot itself into a licensed music platform.

There was apparently a positive response to that legal LimeWire service, in theory at least, from some record label execs, but by then the bosses and the lawyers at the majors had already resolved to sue the company out of business and couldn't be bothered to change their minds.

So, in 2010, the LimeWire company announced that it was closing its doors. A year later it settled out of court with the major labels for a cool $105 million. Then in 2012 a further settlement was reached with indie label rep Merlin. Shortly after that there was an amusing aside when it was reported that the RIAA was pushing for its damages to be increased to a total of more money than exists in the entire world. Which I think was the last time that LimeWire was fun.

Will LimeWire becoming a mainstream NFT marketplace see the brand return to being fun? Almost certainly not. After all, there is nothing fun about NFTs. And the last thing the world needs is more of them. Literally. But, hey, if you're for some reason into the idea, the new LimeWire is set to properly launch in May. You can check it out here.


ANDY MALT | Editor
Andy heads up the team, overseeing the CMU Daily, website and Setlist podcast, managing social channels, reporting on artist and business stories, and writing the CMU Approved column. (except press releases, see below)
CHRIS COOKE | Co-Founder & MD
Chris provides music business coverage, writing key business news and CMU Trends. He also leads the CMU Insights consultancy unit and the CMU:DIY future talent programme, as well as heading up CMU publisher 3CM UnLimited. (except press releases, see below)
SAM TAYLOR | Commercial Manager
Sam oversees the commercial side of the CMU media, leading on sales and sponsorship, and also heads up business development at CMU Insights and CMU:DIY. or call 020 7099 9060
CARO MOSES | Co-Publisher
Caro helps oversee the CMU media as a Director of 3CM UnLimited, as well as heading up the company's other two titles ThisWeek London and ThreeWeeks Edinburgh, and supporting other parts of the business.
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