What do Pharrell Williams, Vanilla Ice and Ed Sheeran have in common? They’ve all been accused of plagiarism.
Vanilla Ice and Williams were both involved in some of the most high-profile copyright infringement lawsuits of the past 50 years. The 1980s rapper attempted to delineate his “Ice Ice Baby” from Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” — it didn’t work — and Bowie and Queen eventually received songwriting credit and royalties. And Williams and singer Robin Thicke were found liable for copyright infringement in 2015 when a jury ruled in favor of Marvin Gaye’s estate, which had argued “Blurred Lines” was too similar to Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.”
Sheeran, no stranger to accusations of copyright infringement himself, has had several of his songs fall under scrutiny in the past two years alone. “Shape of You” was accused of having a lyrically similar rhythm to TLC’s classic “No Scrubs,” earning the latter’s writers, Kandi Burruss and Tameka Cottle, credits on Sheeran’s song. Plus, he settled a $20 million lawsuit with British “X Factor” winner Matt Cardle over a “note for note” plagiarism of Cardle’s song “Amazing”; Sheeran’s track is called “Photograph.” And two Australian songwriters settled with Sheeran, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill over their song “The Rest of Our Life” — a record that Sheeran co-wrote — that the writers said sounded nearly identical to a song they wrote in 2015, “When I Found You.”
Most music copyright infringement cases are settled out of court with shared writing credit — and royalties — as it’s extremely rare for these types of cases to make it to a jury. When it gets to that point, determining fault can be tricky.
In the video above, we explore how experts tell the difference between infringement and inspiration, and what that means for the music industry.