Very few chords, a rocking melody… Did Ed Sheeran plagiarize Marvin Gaye’s famous song, « Let’s get it on », for his planetary hit « Thinking out loud »? A jury, whose selection is due to begin this Monday in federal court in New York, will have to answer the question. The British pop star’s hit ranked 2nd on the Billboard Hot 100, the American benchmark ranking, and won the Grammy Award for Best Song of the Year in 2016.
The complaint, filed the same year by the heirs of Ed Townsend, an American musician and producer who co-wrote « Let’s get it on » with Marvin Gaye, was first dismissed on a procedural issue, then refiled in 2017, also against Sony. Released in 1973, « Let’s get it on », a soul classic, has remained famous for its guitar notes and the sensual vocals of the prince of Motown.
In their copyright lawsuit, Townsend’s heirs, including his daughter, claim there are « striking resemblances » to 2014’s « Thinking Out Loud. » Boyz 2 Men mixed the two songs on stage. Ed Sheeran himself had chained in concert the very different voice lines of the two hits, on the same guitar harmonies, a sequence still visible on the Internet.
A « proof » disputed by the singer’s lawyers, for whom « there are dozens, even hundreds of songs before and after Let’s get it on that use the same chord progression or a similar progression ».
In April 2022, the 32-year-old singer and songwriter won a similar but separate court battle when the High Court in London dismissed two musicians accusing him of copying one of their works, for his mega hit « Shape of You”. Ed Sheeran came in person to defend his song, a case he considered emblematic of « abusive practices that undermine creation ».
He could also be present during the trial in New York. The judge agreed with him, finding that he had not copied, even « unconsciously », part of the melody of the song « Oh Why » (2015) by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue. The judge had noted “Obvious similarities” between the two songs, with a melody resulting in particular from the minor pentatonic scale like “Countless songs from pop, rock, folk and blues”, but also “Important differences”.
In 2018, American artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were ordered to pay nearly $5 million to Marvin Gaye’s heirs for plagiarizing his song « Got to Give It Up » (1977) while composing their hit « Blurred Lines » , the best-selling song in the world in 2013.