Copyright in songs can be a complex area of intellectual property law, usually involving a number of copyright works. In a recent case, a US court ruled that singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran did not copy Marvin Gaye’s song Let’s Get It On when writing his own song Thinking Out Loud.
Copyright in songs
Sheeran was taken to court and accused of copyright infringement by Structured Asset Sales, a company that partly own the track that they said had been copied. They claimed that parts of Mr Sheeran’s song had been “copied and exploited, without authorisation or credit”, arguing that Mr Sheeran and his co-writer Amy Wadge had taken different parts of Marvin Gaye’s older song to use in Thinking Out Loud, without paying royalties to Marvin Gaye’s estate or his co-writer Ed Townsend.
Sheeran strongly denied the allegations of copyright infringement, adding that he was “very happy” with the court’s decision that he and his co-writer Ms Wadge were found to have created Thinking Out Loud independently and therefore there was no infringement.
Before the trial in New York began, Sheeran had said he would give up his music career if found to have copied Gaye’s song. “If that happens, I’m done, I’m stopping,” he said.
During the trial Sheeran sang and played parts of Thinking Out Loud on the guitar for the court to hear. He told the court that he wrote the song at home in England with his friend Amy Wadge, and had been inspired by his grandparents and a new romantic relationship he had just begun.
A musicologist, assisting Sheeran’s defence, told the court that the four-chord sequence used in Thinking Out Loud was also used in several other songs before Marvin Gaye’s hit came out in 1973.
Speaking following his successful defence of the allegations, Sheeran said “It looks like I’m not going to have to retire from my day job after all. But at the same time I am absolutely frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all. If the jury had decided this matter the other way we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters”
In 2015, Marvin Gaye’s family won $5.3m from a lawsuit which said that the Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams song Blurred Lines copied Gaye’s Got to Give It Up.
Last year Sheeran won another copyright in songs battle in London in relation to Shape of You.
Please note the contents of this blog is given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.
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