Jury selection and opening statements are set to begin Monday in a trial that combines Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
The estate of Ed Townsend, co-writer of Gaye’s 1973 soul classic, sued Sheeran, alleging “striking similarities” to the English pop star’s 2014 hit tune “Let’s Get It On” and “exposed common elements” that violates their copyright
The lawsuit, filed in 2017, has finally turned into a trial that is expected to last a week in the Manhattan federal courtroom of 95-year-old Judge Louis L. Stanton.
Sheeran, 32, is one of the witnesses expected to testify.
“Let’s Get It On” is the gorgeous, sexy slow jam that’s been heard in countless movies and commercials and has garnered millions of streams, spins and radio plays over the past 50 years. “Thinking Out Loud,” which won a Grammy for song of the year, is a more marital take on love and sex.
Although the jury will hear recordings of both songs, perhaps many times, their lyrics – and vibes – are legally insignificant. Judges should consider only the raw elements of melody, melody and rhythm that make up the composition of “Let’s Get It On” as documented in sheet music filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Sheeran’s attorneys say the song’s undeniable structural symmetry only points to the foundations of popular music.
“The two songs share versions of a similar and unprotected chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters,” they said in the court filing.
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Townsend family attorneys noted in the lawsuit that artists including Boyz II Men performed seamless mashups of the two songs, and even Sheeran himself took part in “Let’s Get It On” during a live performance of “Thinking Out Loud.”
They tried to play a potentially damaging YouTube video of one such Sheeran performance for the jury during the trial. Stanton denied their offer to include it, but said he would reconsider after seeing other evidence presented.
Gaye’s estate is not involved in the lawsuit, though it will inevitably have echoes of their successful lawsuits against Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and TI over their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.”
A jury awarded Gaye’s heirs $7.4 million at trial – later trimmed by a judge to $5.3 million – making it one of the most significant copyright cases in recent decades.
Sheeran’s label Atlantic Records and Sony/ATV Music Publishing are also named as defendants in the “Thinking Out Loud” lawsuit. Typically, plaintiffs in copyright cases cast a wide net in naming defendants, although a judge can strike out any names deemed inappropriate. In this case, however, Sheeran’s co-writer of the song, Amy Waze, was never named.
Townsend, who wrote the 1958 R&B doo-wop hit “For Your Love,” was a singer, songwriter and lawyer. He died in 2003. Catherine Townsend Griffin, her daughter, is the plaintiff in the suit.
Already a Motown superstar in the 1960s, his more mature 1970s output made him a generational musical giant. .
“Very common now”
Major artists are often sued for song plagiarism, but almost all settle before trial — as Taylor Swift recently did with “Shake It Off,” ending a case that dragged on for years and is closer to trial than most cases. came
But Sheeran — whose musical style draws from classic soul, pop and R&B has made him the target of copyright lawsuits — has previously indicated his willingness to go to trial. A year ago, he won a UK copyright battle over his 2017 hit “Shape of You”, after which he denounced what he described as a “culture” of baseless lawsuits aimed at extracting money from artists eager to avoid the costs of litigation.
“I think that these types of claims are now very common and have become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than going to court even though there is no basis for the claim,” Sheeran said in a video posted on Twitter after the ruling. “It’s really a disservice to the songwriting industry.”
The “Thinking Out Loud” case also invokes one of the most common tropes in American and British music from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and hip-hop: a young white artist seemingly appropriating the work of an older black artist. — accusations that were also leveled at Elvis Presley and The Beatles, whose music drew on black pioneers.
“Mr. Sheeran brazenly accepted the music of a black artist who he did not believe deserved compensation,” Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who represents the Townsend family but is not involved in the lawsuit, said at a March 31 news conference.