A legal battle is currently being waged in Manhattan Federal Court between Ed Sheerhan and a the heirs of the co-writer of Marvin Gaye’s classic song “Let’s Get it On.” The heirs of Ed Townsend are suing Ed Sheeran for alleged similarities between “Let’s Get It On” and Sheerhan’s 2014 song “Thinking Out Loud.” Townsend’s heirs are seeking $100 million.
The suit, which was filed back in 2017, stems from the two songs using similar chord progressions and other musical elements. Sheeran’s attorneys are arguing that the elements in question are part of common musical grammar and don’t even originate with the Gaye song.
Ilene Farkas, representing Sheeran and co-writer Amy Wadge, told jurors that the pair “created this heartfelt song without copying ‘Let’s Get It On.'”
Sheerhan didn’t exactly do himself a favor when he performed a seamless mash-up of “Let’s Get It On” and “Thinking Out Loud” on stage at various concerts. While they allege that the performance was in essence a confession that Sheeran’s song was derived from Gaye’s, Sheeran said otherwise in his own testimony, claiming he’d have to be “quite an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20,000 people and do that” if that were the case.
He testified that he performs many medleys in concert and these medleys are possibly because pop music actually has a surprisingly limited “harmonic pallette.”
“Most pop songs can fit over most pop songs. You could go from ‘Let It Be’ to ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and switch back.“
Here’s a fan recording of the “Thinking Out Loud”/”Lets Get It On” mash up (he makes the switch around 4:30, I tried to queue up the embed, hopefully it worked):
During the trial Sheeran actually pulled out a guitar and played some of “Thinking Out Loud” as a way of demonstrating his songwriting process. He explained how he and his songwriting collaborator, Amy Wadge, used personal life experiences to write the tune. They wrote the song in just a few minutes during a songwriting session in February 2014. They vehemently deny copying “Let’s Get It On.”
In a weird twist, on Wednesday the plaintiff – Ed Townsend’s daughter Kathryn Griffin Townsend – collapsed and had to be carried out of the courtroom.
This is not the first time a Marvin Gaye song has been the subject of a very public plagiarism lawsuit.
Back in 2015, a jury determined that “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, TI, and Pharrell Williams was actionably similar to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.”
Gaye’s estate was eventually awarded $5.3 million in damages, plus royalties and a posthumous songwriting credit. The Gaye estate isn’t involved in this case against Sheeran.
If the jury ends up concluding that Sheeran did indeed plagiarize “Let’s Get It On,” they will then have to decide how much in damages to award the family of Townsend, who are seeking $100 million.