(Hypebot) — Like too many other artists, Ed Sheeran was sued for alleged copyright infringement. In his case, it was Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” This time, the result brings relief to the defendants and all songwriters alike.
by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0
Ever since the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit where a jury decided that Robin Thicke nicked the feel of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Got to Give It Up,” songwriters, publishers and record labels have been looking over their shoulders for an artist or an estate that thinks their modern song was based on a classic hit. That might now be turned around, as a jury in the plagiarism lawsuit just determined that Ed Sheeran did not copy “Let’s Get It On,” (again) with his 2014 Grammy-winning “Thinking Out Loud.”
This time the suit was brought by the estate of Marvin Gaye co-writer Ed Townsend, who claimed that “Thinking Out Loud” had “striking similarities” and “overt common elements” that made it obvious that he had copied “Let’s Get It On.” In essence, Sheeran’s defense was that a lot of songs have the same chord changes, but that doesn’t mean he intentionally copied the song. Thankfully the jury agreed with him.
Songwriters of western music only have 12 notes to pull from, so there’s only so many combinations of those notes to begin with. Couple that with the fact that there are only so many that are pleasing to the Western ear, and it’s not surprising that these combinations get repeated. The same goes for chord sequences. There are only a few that we find pleasing to the ear.
Of course, artists of all types learn by imitating, so when it’s all said and done, we’ve all been influenced by the greatness that has gone before use. Anyone that’s ever created a song, a piece of art, or written words on the page, knows that it’s almost impossible to be completely unique, and if you are then you probably don’t have much of an audience.
A ruling in favor of the Townsend estate would have thrown the music industry into a deep freeze, as creators and record labels would always be walking a tight rope between the next lawsuit. Thankfully, that won’t happen now.
Keep in mind that the only time a plagiarism lawsuit is brought is when the accused song is a hit. This is an expensive business and there’s no point suing someone if there’s not a lot of money involved. Ed Sheeran was a prime target because he’s now a deep pocketed artist.
Of course, he didn’t do himself any favors when he segued from “Thinking Out Loud” to “Let’s Get It On” during a concert performance, but the jury seemed to finally come down on the side of common sense.
Now let’s get back to songwriting.
Bobby Owsinski is a producer/engineer, author, blogger, podcaster, and coach. He has authored 24 books on recording, music, the music business and social media.