Ed Sheeran appears in court accused of plagiarising Marvin Gaye hit

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New York: Musician Ed Sheeran has appeared in a New York court accused of plagiarising a Marvin Gaye song, with lawyers claiming they had “smoking gun” proof the British pop star was aware of the similarities.

At issue in the case are alleged “striking similarities and overt common elements” between Gaye’s 1973 soul classic Let’s Get it On and Sheeran’s song Thinking Out Loud. The plaintiffs are the heirs of Ed Townsend, a musician and producer who co-wrote Gaye’s hit.

Ed Sheeran walks into Manhattan federal court on Tuesday in New York.Credit: AP

Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer representing Townsend, directed the jury in his opening statement to the video of a 2014 live gig in Zurich, in which Sheeran merges the two songs, alleging it was tantamount to “a confession”.

“When you have a confession in hand, generally one does not need to look elsewhere for the culprit,” Crump says of the video of Sheeran performing. “The evidence in this case is going to show that Sheeran recognised the magic of Let’s Get It On and decided to capture a bit of that magic.”

Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud shot up America’s Billboard Hot 100 charts when it was released and won him a Song of the Year award at the Grammys in 2016.

Sheeran, 32, looked on as his lawyer, Ilene Farkas, insisted Sheeran and a co-writer, Amy Wadge, wrote their song independently and did not steal from Townsend and Gaye.

Kathryn Griffin-Townsend, daughter of Ed Townsend who co-wrote the song Let’s Get It On, arrives at federal court in New York on Tuesday.Credit: Bloomberg

Sheeran’s team contests the allegations, saying “there are dozens if not hundreds of songs that predate and postdate” Gaye’s song, “utilising the same or similar chord progression”.

“These medleys are irrelevant to any issue in the case and would be misleading [and] confuse the jury,” she added.

It is the second trial in a year for Sheeran, who successfully testified at a London court last April in a case centred around his song Shape Of You, saying that lawsuit was emblematic of copyright litigation going too far. The judge ruled in his favour.

There have been a flood of copyright trials in recent years, notably in 2016 when Gaye’s family – who is not part of the New York lawsuit against Sheeran – successfully sued Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and TI over similarities between Blurred Lines and Gaye’s Got To Give It Up. They were ordered to pay US$5 million ($7.5 million) in damages, in a result that surprised many in the industry, including legal experts.

A musicologist, retained by the defence, says in court documents in the Sheeran case that the four-chord sequence was used in a number of songs before Gaye’s hit came out in 1973.

The Daily Telegraph

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