Ed Sheeran is being sued over allegedly copying Marvin Gaye

Ed Sheeran lawsuit

UK singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s lawsuit over claims his 2014 single ‘Thinking Out Loud’ infringes U.S. copyright law has continued.

He appeared in a New York federal court on Wednesday to deny claims he ripped off Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ with his Grammy-winning single.

Relatives of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote and produced the 1973 hit with Gaye, are behind the case. It is not the first time Sheeran has faced accusations of copyright infringement.

Here’s what we know so far about Ed Sheeran’s lawsuit.

What is Ed Sheeran being accused of by Marvin Gaye’s co-writer?

Kathryn Griffin Townsend, Townsend’s daughter, is the lead plaintiff in the civil trial, which will hear claims first made by the family in 2016. Griffin says she brought the case reluctantly to “protect [her] father’s legacy”.

She alleges the melody, harmony, and rhythm of ‘Thinking Out Loud’ share “striking similarities” and “overt common elements” with her father’s song.

Sheeran testified he and co-writer Amy Wadge composed ‘Thinking Out Loud’ independently of the work produced by Townsend and Gaye.

What is the case against Ed Sheeran?

Townsend’s attorney Ben Crump played footage of Sheeran performing a live mash-up of ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with ‘Let’s Get It On’ at a concert in 2014.

Crump told jurors the video was a “smoking gun”, evidence that the singer intentionally copied Gaye and Townsend and likened it to “a confession”.

Sheeran responded that it was “quite simple to weave in and out of songs” in the same key, and he would “be an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20,000 people and [confess].”

Ilene Farkas, Sheeran’s Attorney, said it was “exceedingly common” for popular songs to share similar chord progressions.

The New York Times reports that both songs share a sequence of four chords in an ascending order. However, the second chord in Sheeran’s single differs slightly from the one used in ‘Let’s Get It On’.

“All songwriters draw from this basic musical toolkit… Ms Griffin does not and cannot own these common musical elements,” Farkas said.

What’s the evidence can be used against Ed Sheeran?

Jurors in the trial are tasked with deciding whether Sheeran violated copyright law by copying the melody and rhythm of ‘Let’s Get It On’, as it is recorded on sheet music filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1973 (U.S. copyright legislation protected just the content of sheet music up until 1978).

Other aspects of the song – like the famous opening guitar riff and bass line – can’t be considered by the jury as they weren’t detailed on the copyrighted sheet music.

Has Sheeran been sued before?

The singer has been taken to court twice for alleged copyright infringement, over his singles ‘Photograph’ and ‘Shape of You’.

The first case, in 2016, was settled after the plaintiffs were given writers’ credits. The latter, in 2022, saw Sheeran awarded over £900,000 ($AU1.7 million) in legal fees.

In a video posted on social media after winning last year’s case, Sheeran criticised “claims like this” that he said were “really damaging to the songwriting industry”.

“There’s only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are released every day on Spotify.”

Sheeran is one of the most successful pop artists of the 21st century, with his popularity extending across all mediums of music from digital to vinyl.

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