A US judge made the ruling after rejecting Sheeran’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. In a decision made public on Thursday 3 January, district judge Louis Stanton said there were “substantial similarities between several of the two works’ musical elements”.
He also ruled that it was disputed whether the harmonic rhythm of “Let’s Get It On”, which was released in 1973 and hit number one in the US charts, was deserving of copyright protection, or whether it was too common. He said jurors “may be impressed by footage of a Sheeran performance which shows him seamlessly transitioning between the songs”.
Sheeran denies copying Gaye. “Thinking Out Loud” is one of the biggest songs of his career. Released in 2014, it went on to become the first single to spend a full year in the UK top 40, and the first to be streamed over 500m times on Spotify. It won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year at the 58th Grammy Awards in 2016.
The lawsuit against Sheeran was brought by the estate and heirs of late producer Ed Townsend, who co-wrote “Let’s Get It On” with Gaye. It names Sheeran, his co-writer Amy Wadge, Sony/ATC Music Publishing and Atlantic Records as defendants.
The defence argued that “Thinking Out Loud” is characterised by “sombre, melancholic tones” that address “long-lasting romantic love”, while “Let’s Get It On” is considered a “sexual anthem”.
Sheeran has previously been accused of plagiarism over his songs “Photograph” and “Shape of You”. In 2017, he quietly added a credit to the writers behind TLC’s 1999 single “No Scrubs” – Kandi Burruss, Tameka Cottle and producer Kevin Briggs – after critics and fans made comparisons between the melody in the pre-chorus on “Shape of You”, and the main hook in the chorus of “No Scrubs”.
Burruss acknowledged the credit on her Instagram, writing: “Thank you for allowing @majorgirl (Cottle) and I to share the success.”
Songwriters Thomas Leonard and Martin Harrington sued the singer in 2016, claiming Sheeran’s hit ballad “Photograph” had a similar structure to their song “Amazing”, which was performed by Matt Cardle. Sheeran settled the $20m case against him in the US, in 2017.
Judge Stanton is presiding over two lawsuits that allege Sheeran copied “Let’s Get It On”. In the other case, Structured Asset Sales, which owns one third of Townsend’s estate, is suing for $100m (£79m).
The ruling for the jury decision comes just a month after the final verdict in the infamous, long-running “Blurred Lines” case, It was ruled that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had to pay $5m to the family of Marvin Gaye over their claims that the song copied Gaye’s 1977 hit ”Got to Give It Up”.
Sheeran and his team have yet to respond to the ruling.
Additional reporting by Press Association
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