Pop superstar Ed Sheeran is beating back yet another copyright infringement claim as a trial gets underway in a lawsuit accusing him of copying R&B legend Marvin Gaye.
Jury selection began Monday in the lawsuit over Sheeran’s 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud,” which won multiple Grammy awards in 2016. The singer is accused of copying the chord progression used in Gaye’s 1973 classic “Let’s Get It On,” according to heirs and family members of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote the sexy hit with Gaye. The lawsuit says that Townsend co-wrote the lyrics and is the “creator of its musical composition.”
It’s at least the third high-profile allegation of song-stealing the British pop star has faced. In April of 2022, Sheeran successfully defended a lawsuit over his song “Shape of You” brought by singers Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue. They alleged that “Shape of You” cribbed from the songwriters’ 2015 song “Oh Why,” but a U.K. High Court judge found that Sheeran had “neither deliberately nor subconsciously copied” the song.
Sheeran had also settled a separate lawsuit over his song “Photograph,” which was alleged to have taken from a song called “Amazing,” released in 2012 by former X Factor winner Matt Cardle. Sheeran settled with songwriters Thomas Leonard and Martin Harrington for more than $5 million in 2017.
The Townsend plaintiffs, led by Townsend’s daughter Kathryn Townsend Griffin and represented by prominent attorney Ben Crump, sued in 2017. Other plaintiffs include Townsend’s sister, Helen McDonald, and the estate of his former wife, Cherrigale Townsend.
According to the lawsuit, the composition of Gaye and Townsend’s “iconic” song was successful due to the very elements that Sheeran allegedly used in his song.
“The harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements of composition in Let’s Get It On have made this song one (1) of the most famous songs in R&B and soul music history,” the complaint says. “Let’s has been anthologized by celebrated music producers and ranked as the 20th greatest breakbeat of all time. Let’s begins with an iconic melody, bass line, harmony and rhythm that are recognized around the world. The prominence of the bass line and drum composition throughout Let’s make these compositional elements qualitatively important to the musical work as a whole. The combination of these elements constitute the driving force of this composition.”
Sheeran allegedly “copied the ‘heart’ of Let’s and repeated it continuously throughout Thinking — the incontrovertible musical similarity has been observed by music industry professionals previously,” the complaint says.
The plaintiffs contend that the success of “Thinking Out Loud” launched Sheeran to superstardom.
“The Defendant, Mr. Edward Sheeran, experienced a sharp and sudden rise as an international music star in less than eighteen (18) months as a direct result of the commercial success of ‘Thinking,’ the lead single in the United States from Sheeran’s debut album, ‘X’,” the complaint says.
Indeed, Sheeran himself is alleged to have acknowledged “the musical import of Let’s as a forebear and/or musical foundation for Thinking and, purportedly, affirming to his audience his proverbial R&B ‘bona fides’ by performing a medley of both songs/works in which he, too, transitions seamlessly” between the two songs, the complaint says.
The lawsuit notes that “third parties have independently highlighted the striking similarities” between “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On.”
“A case in point came when the popular R&B group known as Boyz II Men recently performed a medley of the two (2) songs together in Las Vegas on July 24, 2015, segueing seamlessly between the two (2) works, and then remarking that both the singers in Boyz II Men and, in fact, Ed Sheeran himself — by singing Thinking — they were actually both singing “a Marvin Gaye” song,” the complaint says.
Inner City Press, run by an independent journalist who covers the federal courts in New York City, reported that a jury had been selected by Monday afternoon.
Judge Stanton: Don’t do any outside reading about the case. Don’t try to learn anything about the case. You are the jury. Return tomorrow at 11
[tomorrow is jury selection in E. Jean Carroll v Trump]
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— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) April 24, 2023
If the federal jury finds that Sheeran did indeed copy Gaye’s song, it wouldn’t be the first time the R&B artist’s music has been used to boost modern pop sales. In 2015, singer Robin Thicke was found to have used parts of Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” without permission in Thicke’s 2013 hit “Blurred Lines,” a collaboration with Pharrell Williams. Gaye’s family was awarded more than $7.3 million.
The Townsend plaintiffs did not specify the amount of damages sought in the complaint.
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