The British artist appeared in court in New York on Tuesday (25 April) as lawyers for the plaintiffs and defence shared opening statements.
Sheeran has been sued by the heirs of Ed Townsend, the songwriter who composed the anthem with Gaye. They have alleged that Sheeran’s 2014 song “Thinking Out Loud” copied harmonic progressions, melodic and rhythmic elements from “Let’s Get It On” without permission.
Presenting his case Tuesday, the plaintiff’s attorney Ben Crump said he had a “smoking gun”: a fan video from a past Ed Sheeran concert in which the singer performs a “mash-up” of “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On”.
The video is available to watch on YouTube.
“That concert video is a confession,” said Crump, who is best known for representing the family of George Floyd.
Sheeran’s lawyer Ilene S Farkas argued that the video does not prove copyright infringement, and that Sheeran often performs mash-ups during his live shows.
Farkas said Sheeran and co-writer Amy Wadge “created this heartfelt song without copying ‘Let’s Get It On.’”
The first witness in the case was Kathryn Townsend Griffin, daughter of Ed, who praised Sheeran as “a great artist with a great future” but said she had to “protect my father’s legacy”.
The chord progression and basic music building blocks in Sheeran's song are frequently used, and didn't appear first in “Let's Get it On,” his lawyer said.
“Let’s Get It On” has been heard in countless films and commercials and garnered hundreds of millions of streams, spins and radio plays since it came out in 1973. “Thinking Out Loud” won a Grammy for song of the year in 2016.
The lawsuit was filed in 2017. The trial is expected to last up to two weeks.
Townsend, who also wrote the 1958 R&B doo-wop hit “For Your Love,” was a singer, songwriter and lawyer. He died in 2003.
In April last year, Sheeran won another copyright lawsuit after he was accused of plagiarising his song “Shape of You” from Sami Chokri’s 2015 track “Oh Why”.
Additional reporting by AP