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Are copyright battles destroying creativity?

In an industry where people are often badly paid, it’s important to protect the ownership of creative work and ideas. But is this leading to a litigious culture that will ultimately suppress creativity? Richard Holman examines both sides of the question

Tucked away in Paul McCartney’s recent book The Lyrics, deep in the first volume, is a surprising and little known story about the Beatles’ relationship with the Rolling Stones. It’s summer 1963 and Paul and John are on the Charing Cross Road in London, ogling guitars they cannot, just yet, afford.

They hear a shout from a passing taxi. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger are leaning out of the window and they offer the lads from Liverpool a lift. In the cab the four young musicians chat about how things are going. The Stones, who’ve only recently signed a record deal, thanks largely to the Beatles recommending them to Decca, have a problem – they don’t have a song to release as their second single.

Without a second thought, in an act of creative generosity counter to everything we’ve been led to believe about the rivalry between the Beatles and the Stones, McCartney pipes up with a solution: there’s a tune on With the Beatles which will never make it as a single, because, well, it’s Ringo on vocals – why don’t they have that? And this is how I Wanna Be Your Man becomes the Stones’ second single and their first big hit.

Contrast this scene with one that played out last month at the High Court in London. Ed Sheeran emerges looking exhausted and strung out, having just won the latest copyright claim against him. A judge has ruled that Sheeran did not in fact plagiarise the song Oh Why by Sami Chakri on his global hit Shape of You.

I personally think the best feeling in the world is the euphoria around the first idea of writing a great song. That feeling has now turned into ‘Oh wait, let’s stand back for a minute’