Just two months after British singer Ed Sheeran was sued by two songwriters for $20 million in a copyright infringement complaint over his song “Photograph,” he’s being sued again over one of his most successful hits.
The family of Ed Townsend, one of the writers behind Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” claims that Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” copied Gaye’s song. According to the complaint, filed in the Southern District Court of New York, Sheeran allegedly took what Townsend’s heirs consider to be “the heart” of the song and “repeated it continuously throughout ‘Thinking.’” The suit goes on to say, “The melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic compositions in ‘Thinking’ are not the product of independent creation…[they] are substantially and/or strikingly similar to the drum composition of ‘Let’s.’” The plaintiffs state that the combination of these elements are what made “Let’s Get It On” one of the most well known and instantly recognizable songs in R&B. They also allege that because both songs are distributed through Sony, Sheeran had a lot of access to Gaye’s hit.
“Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On” have frequently been mashed up on the internet by members of the public, who also believe they are too similar. Sheeran himself has performed his song on tour and transitioned into “Let’s Get It On.” Will any of this influence the case? Could it sway a court against Sheeran?
Gaye’s family scored a major copyright victory in court in 2015 against singer Robin Thicke and producer Pharrell Williams over claims of similarities between their 2013 single “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”; the family, however, is not a party to this suit. Still, as one of the most closely watched music copyright cases in recent times, it’s worth revisiting. The jury was limited to comparing the sheet music for both songs, but also heard what went into the production of “Blurred Lines” and the studio arrangement, including Williams’ own testimony that he was influenced by the vibe and sound of songs from the 70’s, including “Got to Give It Up.” The jury never heard the commercially recorded version of “Got to Give It Up,” because the judge only allowed a stripped down version of it. Many music experts have concluded that the written compositions of the songs are different and, obviously, being inspired by the feel of a song by itself shouldn’t be enough for copyright infringement. Some have questioned the driving force behind the jury’s verdict. Could it have been protection of a much beloved old song and a revered singer? And if Sheeran was indeed inspired by “Let’s Get It On” in the creation of “Thinking Out Loud,” does that spell trouble for him? Has the “Blurred Lines” verdict actually blurred the lines between artist inspiration, song structure, and outright copying?
For news and updates on this and other copyright cases, stay tuned to our blog.