Did Ed Sheeran Infringe Copyright? The Debate Continues

Submitted by jon on Mon, 09/25/2023 - 19:27

The End of a Legal Battle

After a prolonged legal battle, the estate of Ed Townsend, co-writer of Marvin Gaye’s "Let’s Get It On," has formally ended their court battle with Ed Sheeran over their claims that Sheeran’s "Thinking Out Loud" copied the iconic 1970s R&B song. 

Jury’s Verdict

In May, a jury in a federal court in Manhattan ruled in favor of Sheeran, rejecting the Townsend estate’s assertion that "Thinking Out Loud" copied the heart of Gaye’s hit. The Townsend estate initially filed an appeal, but last Wednesday, they withdrew their motion for appeal "with prejudice," meaning the case can’t be refiled. 

Why the Withdrawal?

Why did the Townsend estate withdraw their appeal? Sheeran’s lawyer, Ilene Farkas, theorizes that the plaintiffs recognized that an appeal would end up affirming the verdict, exposing them to legal fees and costs. 

Continuation of the Debate 

Despite this victory for Sheeran, the debate continues. During the trial, the Townsend family had pointed to a live performance where Sheeran segued from "Thinking Out Loud" to "Let’s Get It On" as evidence of plagiarism. Sheeran defended his position, saying that if he had copied elements from "Let’s Get It On," it would be idiotic to perform both songs sequentially in a concert.

Yet Another Case Dismissed 

In a similar vein, another case by Structured Asset Sales (SAS), which claims to own a portion of rights to "Let’s Get It On," was also dismissed. The judge in this case noted the chord progression used in both songs was so common that it amounts to basic musical building blocks.

Bigger Questions About Copyright Infringement 

This series of legal battles brings us to a bigger question: did Ed Sheeran really infringe copyright, and, importantly, do you think copying a rhythm or chord progression should be subject to copyright infringement? Current law mainly recognizes melody and lyrics as copyrightable elements. However, the lawsuits against Sheeran tried to push beyond this boundary by highlighting similarities in rhythm and chord progressions.

What’s Next? 

As the debate continues, David Pullman of SAS, who plans to appeal the ruling in the other case, stated that the withdrawal of the Townsend family’s appeal will not affect SAS’s cases against "Thinking Out Loud."

Share Your Thoughts

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this complex matter. Should we limit copyright to melody and lyrics as the law stands, or should chord progressions and rhythms be included in copyright protections? What do you think about the Sheeran case – is it a rightful victory, or should there have been a different outcome?

Do you think Ed Sheeran infringed copyright, and should copying a rhythm or chord progression be subject to an infringement? Let's discuss!**