Digital Music News reported last month that a New York federal judge refused singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s request for summary judgment in a closely watched lawsuit alleging that Sheeran’s hit “Thinking Out Loud” cops Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”.
According to Law360, the judge’s refusal to dismiss the case means the matter is headed to trial.
The $20 million suit was filed in 2017 by the estate of Ed Townsend, Gaye’s writing partner. It turns on the parties’ interpretation of the original copyright for “Let’s Get It On.” Townsend’s estate contends that the copyright covers the entire recorded version of the song. Sheeran argues that the copyright is far more limited, covering only a “bare bones” version, according to Digital Music News.
Townsend’s estate contends that “Thinking Out Loud” copies the original chord progression of “Let’s Get It On.” The Sheeran camp’s dispute of that “material fact” was integral to the U.S. District Judge Louis D. Stanton’s decision to allow the matter to proceed to trial, according to Digital Music News.
Stanton pointed to a YouTube video that lays bare the similarities between the two songs. In the video, Sheeran navigates an effortless transition between the two works during a stage performance. That transition is compelling evidence that “Let’s Get It On” and “Thinking Out Loud” share fundamental similarities that might meet the threshold for copyright infringement, hinted Stanton.
“Not only are there substantial similarities between several of the two works’ musical elements, but an ordinary observer might experience the aesthetic appeal of both works as the same,” wrote Stanton. The trial jury “may be impressed by footage of a Sheeran performance which shows him seamlessly transitioning between [‘Let’s Get It On’] and [‘Thinking Out Loud’],” he continued.
Sheeran is no stranger to lawsuits alleging copyright infringement. In June 2016, songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard filed suit against Sheeran in a California court. The complaint alleged that Sheeran’s hit song, “Photograph,” was an egregious ripoff of a little-noticed ballad by Matt Cardle, a U.K. talent show winner. Sheeran’s songwriting partner was also named in the suit, which demanded $20 million in lost revenues and other damages.
Sheeran and the two plaintiffs reached a confidential out-of-court settlement in early 2017, according to The Daily Beast.
The most recent Sheeran suit isn’t the first involving a Marvin Gaye property. In 2015, Gaye’s estate sued Canadian musician and producer Robin Thicke and R&B superstar Pharrell for $7.4 million, according to Digital Music News. The complaint alleged that the duo’s smash hit “Blurred Lines” copied Gaye’s seminal “Got to Give It Up.”
In a contrite interview with The New York Times, Thicke blamed the similarities between “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” on “carelessness” attributable to the messy, drawn-out end to his 10-year relationship with actress Paula Patton. But the successful suit dealt Thicke a serious career setback and forced the music industry to reckon with the implications of an increasingly strict definition of copyright infringement.
As of early February, a trial date has not been set for the latest Sheeran-Gaye suit. It is unclear whether the parties are pursuing a pre-trial settlement out of court.