Copyright Case: Ed Sheeran vs Marvin Gaye 

From the soulful vibes of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” to the sentimental lyrics of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” these two chart-topping songs have both left a lasting impression on the music industry and listeners across generations. 

“Let’s Get It On”, written by Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend, was released in 1973. Throughout the years, it has remained a timeless classic. Sheeran, who is known for his acoustic style and romantic lyrics, released “Thinking Out Loud” in 2014. Despite the two songs being sonically different, many have drawn comparisons between them, particularly family members of the late Townsend. 

Townsend’s heirs claimed that Sheeran had infringed on parts of “Let’s Get It On”, seeking $100 million in damages. Sheeran maintained that his song is not a copy of Gaye’s, arguing that any resemblance can be attributed to the basic chord progressions and chords used in pop music. 

So, did Sheeran copy the hit song? Let’s take a closer look at the case. 

Did Ed Sheeran copy Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”? 

Structured Asset Sales initially filed a lawsuit two years after the release of “Thinking Out Loud” in 2016. 

The company, which owns an 11.11% stake in “Let’s Get It On”, claimed that Ed Sheeran and co-writer Amy Wadge copied Gaye’s chord composition and used it without permission. To back up their claim, they presented video evidence of Sheeran performing at a concert and combining both songs together. 

A key point to keep in mind is that Sheeran was accused of copying the musical structure of Gaye’s song, specifically the chord progressions, rather than the lyrics. The jury’s role was to evaluate if Sheeran did copy those elements, which are in fact copyrighted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

Sheeran’s legal team agreed that the chord progressions of the two songs resemble each other but argued that they are basic chords used by many artists. Moreover, regarding the video footage, Sheeran explained that many pop songs can be combined in that way because of just how similar those chord progressions are. 

Despite their best efforts, Townsend’s heirs failed to convince the jury that Sheeran infringed on Townsend’s work. 

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton held that the elements of “Let’s Get It On” allegedly copied by Sheeran fall outside the realm of copyright protection. 

He concluded that the harmony and chord progression used in Gaye’s song is a basic and widely used musical component that is not protected by copyright, leading him to determine that Sheeran had not copied it. 

Judge Stanton ultimately dismissed the case on May 4, 2023.  

Sanchelima & Associates, P.A. is one of the leading intellectual property law firms in South Florida. With over 40 years of experience, we have represented the IP interests of a wide array of businesses in the US and abroad, including Fortune 500 companies. Whether you need a consultation or prosecution of a patent, trademark, or copyright, we can protect your business’s interests. 

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