NEW YORK — Jury selection and opening statements are scheduled to begin Monday in a process that will mix Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
The heirs of Ed Townsend, Gaye’s co-writer of the 1973 soul classic, sued Sheeran, claiming that the English pop star’s 2014 hit had “striking similarities” to “Let’s Get It On” and “obvious elements in common.” that infringe their copyright.
The lawsuit, filed in 2017, has finally made it to a trial that is expected to last a week in a Manhattan federal courtroom against 95-year-old Judge Louis L. Stanton.
Sheeran, 32, is among the witnesses expected to testify.
“Let’s Get It On” is the quintessential sexy slow jam that’s been featured in countless films and commercials, racking up hundreds of millions of streams, spins and radio plays over the last 50 years. “Thinking Out Loud,” which won a Grammy for song of the year, is a much more conjugal take on love and sex.
While the jury will likely hear the recordings of both songs many times, their lyrics — and moods — are legally irrelevant. Judges are to consider only the raw elements of melody, harmony and rhythm that make up the composition of “Let’s Get It On” as documented on sheet music filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Sheeran’s attorneys have said that the songs’ undeniable structural symmetry only points to the basics of pop music.
“The two songs share versions of a similar and non-protectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters,” according to a court filing.
Attorneys for the Townsend family pointed out in the lawsuit that artists such as Boyz II Men performed seamless mashups of the two songs and that even Sheeran herself went from “Thinking Out Loud” to “Let’s Get It On” during live performances.
They attempted to play a potentially damning YouTube video of one such Sheeran performance for the jury in court. Stanton denied her request to include it but said he would reconsider after seeing other evidence that was presented.
Gaye’s estate is not involved in the case, although there will inevitably be echoes of her successful lawsuit against Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and TI over the similarity of her 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” to Gaye’s 1977 “Got to Give it Up.”
A jury awarded Gaye’s heirs $7.4 million in court — later reduced by a judge to $5.3 million — making it one of the most significant copyright cases in decades.
Sheeran’s label Atlantic Records and Sony/ATV Music Publishing are also named as defendants in the Thinking Out Loud lawsuit. In general, plaintiffs in copyright lawsuits cast a wide net when naming defendants, although a judge may strike out any names deemed inappropriate. In this case, however, Sheeran’s co-writer of the song, Amy Wadge, was never named.
Townsend, who also wrote the R&B doo-wop hit “For Your Love” was a singer, songwriter and lawyer. He died in 2003. Kathryn Townsend Griffin, his daughter, is the plaintiff leading the lawsuit.
Already a Motown superstar in the 1960s before his more mature output made him a musical giant of the generation in the 1970s, Gaye was killed in 1984 at the age of 44 while trying to intervene in an argument between his parents.
Big artists are often plagued by song-stealing lawsuits, but nearly all plead pre-trial — as Taylor Swift recently did on “Shake It Off,” ending a lawsuit that took years longer and was closer to trial than most other cases.
But Sheeran – whose musical style combines classic soul, pop and R&B has made him the target of copyright lawsuits – has previously shown a willingness to go to court. A year ago, he won a UK copyright battle over his 2017 hit “Shape of You,” then criticized what he described as a “culture” of unfounded lawsuits aimed at extorting money from artists trying to avoid the costs of a lawsuit .
“I feel like claims like this are far too common now and have become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement is cheaper than going to court, even if there is no basis for it.” allegation,” Sheeran said in a video posted to Twitter after the verdict, “It’s really detrimental to the songwriting industry.”
The “Thinking Out Loud” lawsuit also invokes one of the most pervasive tropes in American and British music since the earliest days of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and Hip-Hop: A young white artist seemingly appropriating the work of an older black artist – accusations leveled at Elvis Presley and the Beatles, whose music borrowed from their black predecessors.
“Mr. Sheeran has manifestly taken music from a black artist that he does not deem worthy of compensation,” Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who is representing the Townsend family but is not involved in the lawsuit, said at a news conference March 31. March.
Dalton reported from Los Angeles.