Let’s Get It On: A Breakdown Of Ed Sheeran’s Copyright Case - Trending

Did the singer-songwriter take inspiration from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” while writing his own song? Let’s find out.

In April, the music copyright trial involving Ed Sheeran and the heirs of Ed Townsend (the late co-writer of “Let’s Get It On”) took place in Manhattan federal court.

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Townsend’s heirs filed the lawsuit on the basis that Sheeran copied the “heart” of the Marvin Gaye song in his own 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud.”

The suit was filed on July 11, 2017 and Sheeran has denied their claims ever since. The singer-songwriter states that the “heart” of the song is nothing but routine elements of popular songs that aren’t “unique, original, or protectable.”

Here’s a breakdown of the important details over the course of the trial.

What is Ed Sheeran being accused of copying exactly?

Image via Instagram @teddysphotos

The suit claims that Sheeran copied the building blocks of Gaye’s song and “repeated it continuously throughout ‘Thinking’ — this incontrovertible musical similarity has been observed by music industry professionals previously, as embodied by various social media and articles about the matter.”

This does not include the lyrics or the overall feel of the song. According to the Associated Press, the jury was asked to only consider “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.

How did Ed Sheeran defend his song in court?

Sheeran’s attorneys have stated that “The two songs share versions of a similar and unprotectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters.”

For his testimony during the trial, the musician took his guitar and performed a mash-up of his songs and Marvin Gaye’s to show how common the four-chord progression is.

He also played parts of “Thinking Out Loud” to illustrate his songwriting process alongside his collaborator Amy Wadge. Sheeran testified that he heard Wadge play the chords from another part of the house and wanted to use them in a song.

“If I had done what you’re accusing me of doing, I’d be quite an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20,000 people and do that,” said Sheeran last Tuesday.

Image via Instagram @teddysphotos

What evidence do the plaintiffs have against Ed Sheeran?

The plaintiffs referenced a video of Sheeran transitioning from “Thinking Out Loud” to “Let’s Get It On” in a live performance. The musician said that he often performs medleys in his concerts and these are made possible due to the limited harmonic palette of mainstream pop music.

“Most pop songs can fit over most pop songs,” Sheeran said. “You could go from ‘Let It Be’ to ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and switch back.” He has also rebutted the testimony from the musicologist the plaintiffs hired as an expert witness.

His own musicologist notes that more than a dozen songs have used the same basic sequence before “Let’s Get It On.” The plaintiffs argued that the specific way it was used in Gaye’s song is original enough in its “selection and arrangement” to be protected by copyright.

The plaintiffs also accused Sheeran of appropriating a Black artist’s work. “Ed Townsend’s family believes Mr. Sheeran’s infringement of Black artists is merely another example of artists exploiting the genius and the work of Black singers and songwriters,” said Ben Crump, a civil-rights attorney representing the family.

How does this affect the music industry?

Image via Instagram @teddysphotos

This case is only the most recent example of many others dealing with whether common pieces of harmony or melody can be owned by any composer or are part of the public domain.

Songs like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, and “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift have all been hit with lawsuits with varying outcomes.

Two of Sheeran’s other songs, “Photograph” and “Shape of You,” have also faced infringement cases. The singer chose to settle with “Photograph” and added the songwriters of “Amazing” to its credits.

For “Shape of You,” Sheeran successfully defended himself at trial last year. Afterward, he posted an Instagram video saying that the recent flood of cases like this is “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 being released every day on Spotify,” he continued.

During the present trial, Sheeran has reportedly said that he would be “done” with music if the verdict finds him guilty. He was addressing the toll that the court proceedings had taken on him.

“I find it really insulting to devote my whole life to being a performer and a songwriter and have someone diminish it,” he added.

Other artists have offered encouragement to Sheeran, sharing in his worries about facing similar claims. He didn’t name them but he said that they were cheering him on as he’s taking a stand against something all songwriters view as a threat.

Banner image via Instagram @teddysphotos.

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