Ed Sheeran sued for $20m by songwriters behind X Factor winner

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran’s 2014 summer hit Photograph is at the center of a new $20m lawsuit alleging that the singer/songwriter’s ballad copies a song released by a winner of The X Factor.

Related: Ed Sheeran: X review – gently pushing boundaries and maturing noticeably

Attorney Richard Busch, who recently triumphed on behalf of Marvin Gaye’s family over the hit Blurred Lines, is representing the chart-topping songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard. They say Sheeran’s Photograph “note-for-note” copies their 2009 song Amazing. That song was released as the third single by Matt Cardle, winner of the 2010 season of The X Factor. Harrington and Leonard have also written songs for Kylie Minogue and Emma Bunton. Cardle is not a party to the lawsuit.

Amazing got to No 84 in the UK, though it has generated more than 1m video plays on YouTube. However, the single’s success pales in comparison with that of Photograph, which as of 1 June had sold more than 3.5m copies, according to the lawsuit. Sheeran’s song has more than 208m plays on YouTube, and is largely credited for elevating his profile to superstar status. Most recently, it was licensed for the romantic drama Me Before You.

Harrington and Leonard claim in their lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in a Los Angeles federal court, that the similarities between the two songs are evident even to the untrained listener.

“The chorus sections of Amazing and the infringing Photograph share 39 identical notes – meaning the notes are identical in pitch, rhythmic duration, and placement in the measure,” the lawsuit reads.

“The songs’ similarities reach the very essence of the work,” it states. “The similarities go beyond substantial, which is itself sufficient to establish copyright infringement, and are in fact striking. The similarity of words, vocal style, vocal melody, melody, and rhythm are clear indicators, among other things, that Photograph copies Amazing.”

Harrington and Leonard allege in the lawsuit that they sought to resolve their copyright claims privately before going to court.

Sheeran had been accused of lifting from Amazing by some on social media since the song started making waves. Éire Creative, a Sydney-based creative design, animation and editing studio, went so far as to publish a YouTube video in an effort to prove the songs’ similarities.

The stakes for Sheeran could be high should the judge find against him. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, the composers of Blurred Lines, were required to pay $7.2m. Though this was reduced on appeal, the Marvin Gaye estate now receives 50% of publishing and songwriting revenues from the song.

Sheeran’s representatives declined to comment.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nigel M Smith, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 8th June 2016 19.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010