Ed Sheeran sued for ripping off Marvin Gaye’s classic ‘Let’s Get It On’
British pop superstar Ed Sheeran has been accused of plagiarizing Marvin Gaye's 1973 hit song Let's Get It On in his 2014 hit song Thinking Out Loud, but has denied the allegations in court arguing that similarities between the songs involve basic musical “building blocks” that are not protected by copyright.
The plaintiffs are the heirs of Marvin Gaye's songwriting partner Ed Townsend and include his daughter, Kathryn Townsend-Griffin, his sister Helen McDonald and the estate of his late wife, Cherrigale Townsend. They sued the singer, along with his label Warner Music Group as well as his music publisher, Sony Music Publishing, back in 2017, with the trial finally beginning in a Manhattan Federal Court last week.
They alleged that Sheeran's song copied the “heart” of Gaye’s song, including its melody, harmony, and rhythm, and are seeking an injunction blocking Sheeran from publicly performing Thinking Out Loud, as well as monetary damages.
However, Sheeran's lawyer argued that both songs are unique from one another and that no musician should be allowed to "monopolize" similarly used musical chord progressions.
"The two songs share versions of a similar and unprotectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters," his lawyers said.
According to the New York Times, Townsend's daughter testified that Sheeran is "a great artist with a great future," but "I have to protect my father's legacy."
Her lawyers played a clip of Sheeran flawlessly switching between Thinking Out Loud and Let’s Get It Onduring a live performance which they said amounted to a confession that he had plagiarized the song.
During the trial in court, Sheeran said: “If I’d done what you’re accusing me of doing, I’d be an idiot to stand on stage in front of 20,000 people and do that. It is my belief that most pop songs are built on building blocks that have been freely available for hundreds of years.”
Sheeran even sang the song and played guitar chord progressions in court.
Sheeran is already facing two related lawsuits from investment banker and “Bowie Bonds” creator David Pullman’s Structured Asset Sales LLC, which owns a certain portion of Townsend’s rights in the song.
Those plaintiffs allege that Sheeran and his co-writer Amy Wadge "copied and exploited, without authorization or credit" the Gaye song, "including but not limited to the melody, rhythms, harmonies, drums, bass line, backing chorus, tempo, syncopation and looping” and are seeking $100 million in damages.
While Thinking Out Loud reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 in the US and won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 2016, Let's Get It On topped the Billboard charts back in 1973.
The latest trial comes one year after Sheeran won a four-year copyright battle over his 2017 hit song Shape of You after a UK judge concluded he had not plagiarized the work of other British artists Sami Chokri - aka Sami Switch - and songwriter Ross O’Donoghue.
PitchMark helps innovators deter idea theft, so that third parties that they share their idea with get the idea but don’t take it. Visit PitchMark.net and register for free as a PitchMark member today.