Pop superstar Ed Sheeran is hitting back yet another claim of copyright infringement as trial begins in a lawsuit accusing him of copying R&B legend Marvin Gaye.
Jury selection began Monday in the trial of 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 Townsend co-wrote the lyrics and is “the creator of its musical composition.”
In any case, it is the third high-profile accusation of song theft that the British pop star has been exposed to. In April 2022, Sheeran successfully defended a lawsuit over his song “Shape of You” brought by singers Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue. They claimed that “Shape of You” came from the songwriters’ 2015 song “Oh Why”, but a UK High Court judge found that Sheeran had “neither knowingly or unknowingly copied” the song.
Sheeran had also settled a separate lawsuit over his song “Photograph”, which was allegedly 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 ex-wife, Cherrigale Townsend.
According to the lawsuit, the composition of Gaye and Townsend’s “iconic” song was successful because of the very elements Sheeran allegedly used in his song.
“The harmonic, melodic and rhythmic compositional elements of 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 states. “Let’s has been anthologized by famous music producers and ranked as the 20th greatest breakbeat of all time. Let’s begin with an iconic melody, bass line, harmony and rhythm that is recognized around the world. The prominence of the bassline and drum composition throughout Let us make these compositional elements qualitatively important to the musical work as a whole. The combination of these elements constitutes the driving force of this composition.”
Sheeran allegedly “copied the ‘heart’ of Let’s and repeated it continuously throughout Thinking – the undisputed musical similarity has been previously observed by music industry professionals,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs claim that the success of “Thinking Out Loud” launched Sheeran to superstardom.
“The defendant, Mr. Edward Sheeran, experienced a sharp and sudden rise to international music stardom in less than eighteen (18) months as a direct result of the commercial success of ‘Thinking’, the number one single in the United States from Sheeran’s debut album ‘X’ ,” reads the complaint.
In fact, Sheeran himself is alleged to have acknowledged “the musical significance of Let’s as an ancestral and/or musical foundation of thought and to allegedly confirm to his audience his proverbial R&B ‘bona fides’ by performing a mash-up of both songs/works in which he also seamlessly switches between the two songs, the complaint reads.
The lawsuit notes that “third parties have independently highlighted the striking similarities” between “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On.”
“An example 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, seamlessly interspersing the two (2) works and then noted that both the singers of Boyz II Men and indeed Ed Sheeran himself — by singing Thinking — were actually both singing “a Marvin Gaye song,” the complaint reads.
The Inner City Press, run by an independent journalist who covers the federal courts in New York City, reported that a jury had been selected Monday afternoon.
Judge Stanton: Don’t read from the outside into the case. Do not try to learn anything about the matter. 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 in fact 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 the damages claim in the complaint.
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