NEW YORK (AP) — Jury selection and opening statements are set to begin Monday in a trial that crushes Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” with Marvin Gaye “Let’s go.”
The heirs of Ed Townsend, Gaye’s co-writer of the 1973 soul classic, have sued Sheeran, alleging the English pop star’s 2014 hit song bears ‘striking resemblances’ to ‘Let’s Get It On’ and “obvious common elements” that infringe their copyright.
The lawsuit filed in 2017 ultimately culminated in a trial expected to last a week in the Manhattan federal courtroom of Judge Louis L. Stanton, 95.
Sheeran, 32, is among the witnesses who are expected to testify.
“let’s go” is the quintessential, sexy slow jam that’s been heard in countless movies and commercials and garnered hundreds of millions of streams, tours and radio plays over the past 50 years. “Thinking out loud,” which won a Grammy for song of the year, is a much more marital approach to love and sex.
Although the jury will hear recordings of both songs, likely multiple times, their lyrics — and vibes — are legally insignificant. Jurors are expected 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 said the songs’ unmistakable structural symmetry only goes back to the foundations of popular music.
“Both songs share versions of a similar, non-copyrightable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters,” they said in a court filing.
Lawyers for the Townsend family pointed out in the lawsuit that artists, including Boyz II Men, performed seamless mashups of both songs, and that even Sheeran himself followed up with “Let’s Get It On” during live performances. from “Thinking Out Loud”.
They sought to release a potentially damning YouTube video of such a performance by Sheeran for the jury during the trial. Stanton denied their motion to include it, but said he would reconsider after seeing more evidence presented.
Gaye’s estate is not involved in the case, although it will inevitably have echoes of their successful lawsuit against Robin ThickePharrell Williams and TI on how similar their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” was to Gaye’s 1977 “Got to Give it Up.”
A jury awarded Gaye’s heirs $7.4 million at trial – later reduced by a judge to $5.3 million — making it one of the most important copyright cases over the past decades.
Sheeran’s label Atlantic Records and Sony/ATV Music Publishing are also named as defendants in the “Thinking Out Loud” lawsuit. Typically, plaintiffs in copyright lawsuits cast a wide net when naming defendants, although a judge can weed out any name deemed inappropriate. In this case, however, Sheeran’s co-writer on the song, Amy Wadge, was never named.
Townsend, who also wrote the 1958 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 trial.
Already a Motown superstar in the 1960s before his more adult 1970s output made him a generational musical giant, Gaye was killed in 1984 at age 44, shot by his father as he tried to intervene in a fight between his parents.
Great artists are often sued alleging song theft, but nearly all settle before trial — as Taylor Swift recently did on “Shake it Off,” ending a lawsuit that has spanned years longer and moved closer to the trial than most other business.
But Sheeran – whose musical style drawing on classic soul, pop and R&B has made him a target for copyright lawsuits – has already shown his willingness to take legal action. 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 baseless lawsuits designed to extract money from artists willing to avoid the costs of a trial.
“I feel like claims like this are all too common now and have become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking it to court, even if ‘There is no merit to the claim,’ Sheeran said. in a video posted on Twitter after the verdict. “It’s really damaging to the songwriting industry.”
The “Thinking Out Loud” lawsuit also invokes one of the most common tropes in American and British music from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and hip-hop: a young white artist seemingly appropriating the work of an older black artist. – accusations that were also made against Elvis Presley and the Beatles, whose music was inspired by that of black precursors.
“Mr. Sheeran openly took music from a black artist whom he does not consider worthy of compensation,” Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer who represents the Townsend family but is not involved in the lawsuit, said at a March 31 news conference.
Dalton reported from Los Angeles.