L.A. TECH & MEDIA LAW FIRM – Intellectual Property & Technology Law

The Ed Sheeran Lawsuit: A Wake-Up Call for Entrepreneurs and Tech Startups on Music Copyright Law

Copyright Law of the United States
As an entrepreneur or tech startup, it’s important to understand the intricacies of copyright law, especially when it comes to using music in your business. Copyright law is a set of legal rules that protect the rights of creators of original works of authorship, such as literary, musical, and artistic works. It gives the creators exclusive rights to control the use and distribution of their works, and allows them to decide how their works can be used by others. U.S. Copyright Law, codified in Title 17 of the United States Code is also called the Copyright Act of 1976, and it provides legal remedies for those whose rights have been infringed. It is designed to encourage creativity and innovation by allowing creators to benefit from their works, while also promoting the public interest by ensuring that the public has access to a diverse range of creative works.
Ed Sheeran Instagram (@teddysphotos)
Ed Sheeran Instagram                                 (@teddysphotos)
The recent lawsuit involving musicians Ed Sheeran and Marvin Gaye highlights how borrowing music can be legal or illegal depending on the circumstances. In the case, the estate of Marvin Gaye sued Ed Sheeran for copyright infringement, claiming that Sheeran’s hit song “Thinking Out Loud” copied key elements of Gaye’s classic “Let’s Get It On.” After a lengthy legal battle, Sheeran agreed to pay $20 million to settle the lawsuit. This case underscores the importance of understanding copyright law as it pertains to music. Under the law, music is considered part of the copyright subject matter. Specifically, 17 U.S. Code § 102 it states that “copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” The works of authorship that are included in this category are listed as follows:
  • Literary works;
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words;
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works;
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • Sound recordings; and
  • Architectural works.
The section serves as the basis for determining whether a particular work is eligible for copyright protection, and is therefore an essential part of copyright law in the United
 Copyright Law of the United States
Copyright Law of the United States
States. For entrepreneurs and tech startups using music as part of their marketing or product, such as a remix or soundtrack for a mobile app, YouTube video, feature film, or other content, clearing music licensing rights is critical. Otherwise, you may find yourself facing a costly lawsuit like Ed Sheeran did. Copyright infringement and intellectual property disputes can have serious consequences for your business. As a business owner, it’s crucial to have a working knowledge of copyright law and to seek professional guidance from an experienced intellectual property attorney when necessary. It is crucial for entrepreneurs and tech startups to be aware of copyright considerations when it comes to using music in their creative works. As seen in the Ed Sheeran and Marvin Gaye lawsuit, even small similarities in music can lead to infringement claims. Therefore, clearing music licensing rights is essential to avoid any legal issues down the road. By taking the necessary steps to obtain permission or licenses, entrepreneurs can protect themselves and their businesses from costly lawsuits and ensure that they are using music legally and ethically. Clearing music licensing rights is critical otherwise you will be singing the blues in court.  To learn more about copyright law and its application to technology startups, see Chapter 3 of Tip-Top Startups. Legal and Business Playbook Optimized for Innovation now available on amazon, and consult with an experienced copyright and entertainment attorney as needed.  Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp-EO5I60KA
Picture of David N. Sharifi, Esq.
David N. Sharifi, Esq.

David N. Sharifi, Esq. is a Los Angeles based intellectual property attorney and technology startup consultant with focuses in entertainment law, emerging technologies, trademark protection, and “the internet of things”. David was recognized as one of the Top 30 Most Influential Attorneys in Digital Media and E-Commerce Law by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Office: Ph: 310-751-0181; david@latml.com.

Disclaimer: The content above is a discussion of legal issues and general information; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be used as such without seeking professional legal counsel. Reading the content above does not create an attorney-client relationship. All trademarks are the property of L.A. Tech & Media Law Firm or their respective owners. Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.

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