Business(5/17-20) – Ed Sheeran Wins Copyright Case Over Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’

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1. British singer Ed Sheeran has appeared in a New York City court to deny allegations that his hit song, Thinking Out Loud, copied Marvin Gaye’s song, Let’s Get It On. It’s not the first time Sheeran has faced trial for a copyright issue.  Here’s what’s happening with Sheeran’s current trial and how his team have defended him so far. 

2. Sheeran was called to testify in the civil trial by the heirs of Ed Townsend, Gaye’s co-writer on the 1973 soul classic. Townsend was a singer, songwriter and lawyer. He died in 2003. His heirs are alleging Sheeran’s 2014 hit Thinking Out Loud has “striking similarities” to Let’s Get It On and “overt common elements“.

3. Sheeran’s attorneys have said the songs’ undeniable structural symmetry points only to the foundations of popular music. “The two songs share versions of a similar and unprotectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters,” Sheeran’s lawyers said in a court filing.. 

4. Sheeran himself testified on April 26.  Townsend’s daughter, Kathryn Townsend Griffin, is the plaintiff leading the lawsuit. “I think Mr Sheeran is a great artist with a great future,” Ms Griffin said.“I didn’t want it to come to this, but I have to protect my father’s legacy.” While the jury will hear the recordings of both songs, their lyrics will be legally insignificant. Jurors are supposed to only consider the raw elements of melody, harmony and rhythm that make up the composition of Let’s Get It On.

What do you think the reasoning is for lyrics rather than melody or harmony being insignificant?

5. There’s a video of Sheeran mashing his and Gaye’s songs — what’s that about?Lawyers for Townsend’s heirs kicked things off with a video of Sheeran on stage.  That video showed him performing a medley of his song, Thinking Out Loud, and Gaye’s Let’s Get it On in 2014. The aim of the video was to bolster their allegation that Sheeran, his label Warner Music Group and music publisher Sony Music Publishing owe them a share of the profits for allegedly copying the song.

6. One lawyer for the heirs, Ben Crump, had told jurors that the merging of the two songs was tantamount to “a confession”. “We have a smoking gun,” he said of the concert footage showing Sheeran flipping between the two songs. Crump said the case was about “giving credit where credit is due”.

7. While testifying, Sheeran was adamant that he had come up with Thinking Out Loud himself. He explained it was common practice for musicians to weave other artists’ songs into their live shows. Sheeran said many pop songs use the same three or four chords, and that he performs “mash-ups” of many songs at his concerts. “You could go from Let it Be to No Woman, No Cry and switch back,” Sheeran testified, referring to the Beatles and Bob Marley classics.”If I had done what you’re accusing me of doing, I’d be a quite an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20,000 people and do that.”

How do you determine if a song you’ve written is original enough to avoid infringing on someone else’s copyright?

8. Sheeran is expected to testify again later in the trial as part of the defence case. If the jury finds Sheeran liable for copyright infringement, the trial will enter a second phase to determine how much he and his labels owe in damages. The first trial is expected to last about a week. Let’s Get It On has been heard in countless films and commercials, and has garnered hundreds of millions of streams, spins and radio plays since it came out in 1973. As for Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, it won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 2016.

9. In 2017, Ed Sheeran won a copyright lawsuit over his 2017 hit, Shape Of You. Sheeran and his co-writers denied allegations that the song copied part of 2015’s Oh Why by Sami Chokri, who performs under the name Sami Switch. “Whilst we’re obviously happy with the result, I feel like claims like this are way too common now,” Sheeran said in a video posted on Twitter. “It’s become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking them to court, even if there’s no basis for the claim,” he said. “It’s really damaging to the songwriting industry.”

1.How can you protect your own songwriting from being plagiarized by others?

2.How can you ethically use samples or covers of other people’s music in your own songwriting without violating copyright laws?

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