Creatives and Musicians Alike Secure Big Win With Ed Sheeran’s Copyright Victory

September 13, 2023

By Julie C. Hancock

When you flip on the radio, you hear the latest pop tune and it feels hardly distinguishable from the last time you flipped on the radio and heard that day’s number-one pop hit. It certainly seems that often pop hits are low-hanging fruit in the music industry – and that’s the exact defense Ed Sheeran used in the lawsuit filed against him claiming copyright infringement.

The Case Against Ed Sheeran Falls Flat

The heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote Marvin Gaye’s classic hit “Let’s Get It On,” claimed Sheeran copied parts of the song in creating his tune “Thinking Out Loud.” Both attempts at pursuing litigation against the British singer-songwriter have now failed.

In a second copyright lawsuit against Ed Sheeran in federal court in Manhattan, the U.S. District Judge dismissed the case, which claimed similarities between Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" and Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." The judge ruled that the elements of "Let's Get It On" that Sheeran was accused of infringing were too common for copyright protection. The first lawsuit saw Sheeran win a jury trial, where the  judge found that certain musical elements in Gaye's song were considered basic and widespread, not warranting copyright protection. 

This case has been of particular interest in the music industry and for creatives over its potential impact on music, basic creative elements, and simple inspiration for art. Sheeran never denied that the music of Marvin Gaye inspires him, but he also took a surprising angle for his defense, stating that almost all pop music shares similar elements. He even pulled out a guitar in the courtroom to show how easy it is for him to write pop music.

What This Means for Other Musicians

Ed Sheeran’s win is ultimately a win for musicians who are trying to write the next big hit. In both rulings, the court determined that the elements claimed by the heirs of Ed Townsend were too simple and common to claim copyright protection for.

Protecting intellectual property that is considered “common” or “generic” is untenable according to law and subsequent court cases. In this case, the court found no direct line from Townsend and Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” to Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” The judge determined the similarities in the chord progressions were considered basic “building blocks” of music to find him liable.

A ruling like this should settle some of the nerves in the music industry over 2015’s “Blurred Lines” lawsuit that saw the opposite outcome where artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were hit with a $5 million judgment. In that ruling, artists worried the court blurred the lines of creativity because, like the Sheeran case, there were no direct chord progressions or shared melodies between the two songs.

Ed Sheeran’s copyright lawsuits highlight the importance of having an attorney on your side that advocates for creativity and protects your work. At Your Virtual Advocate, we pride ourselves on fighting for creatives and ensuring not only that their work is protected but that they are protected from fraudulent claims against them. Contact our team or schedule an appointment to work with our creative copyright team.

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