Meet Peter Oxendale, the man described by the New York Times as a “the world’s leading forensic musicologist.” Think someone else’s song sounds suspiciously like the one you wrote three years ago? Have a concern about plagiarism or copyright infringement> Then this is guy you need to call.
In a penthouse overlooking the English Channel, he analyzes songs, everything from pop hits to classical pieces, until he is sure there has been an infringement, or not.
So it’s a shame he clammed up recently when asked about today’s highest-profile copyright question: Did the British pop star Ed Sheeran steal from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” for his own “Thinking Out Loud”?
Asked his opinion of the case, which is now the matter of a lawsuit in New York, Mr. Oxendale pretended to zip his mouth. Did that mean he had a client on either side?
“I may or may not be involved in a case featuring a pop star whose name I couldn’t possibly mention,” he said.
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Mr. Oxendale’s reticence to discuss ongoing cases — he won’t even show journalists his office in case they stumble across notes — is evidence of one truth about the world of music copyright: There can be a lot of money involved. Mr. Oxendale takes on around 450 cases a year in which musicians are liable for “thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds,” he says. “The duty of care’s quite terrifying.”