A closely watched music copyright trial is set to begin Monday in federal court in Manhattan, with jurors looking to see Ed Sheeran win the Grammys from Marvin Gaye’s soul classic “Let’s Get It On.” Decides on lawsuit accusing him of copying award-winning ballad “Thinking Out Loud.”
Sheeran plans to testify at the trial, which is set to begin two weeks before he plans to release his new album and begin an extensive North American stadium tour. The lawsuit, first filed in 2017, has been postponed multiple times.
The music industry is very interested in the results. Over the past decade, this business has been rocked by a string of infringement lawsuits. These lawsuits included questions about how well pop songwriters’ works are protected by copyright and how vulnerable they are to legal challenges.
The trend began in 2015, when a jury found that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ hit “Blurred Lines” infringed another gay song, “Got to Give It Up.” was. $5 million in damages. The case has led many legal experts to believe that Thicke and Williams will be punished for using fundamental musical constructs such as harmonies and rhythmic patterns that have long been considered part of the public’s domain. and shocked musicians.
In 2020, an appeals court ruling granting victory over a copyright infringement claim against Led Zeppelin’s song “Stairway to Heaven” seemed to bring case law back into more familiar territory. But plaintiffs are free to seek relief if they feel their rights have been violated, and jury trials over music copyrights are particularly unpredictable.
Here’s a guide on what to expect during the trial period.
what does the song sound like?
The lawsuit against Sheeran only concerns the underlying musical composition (melody, chords and lyrics) of the two songs, not the specific recordings.
listen to sheeran “Thoughts were spoken.”
gayLet’s Get It On.“
Who are the plaintiffs?
The “Blurred Lines” lawsuit was brought by a gay family, but the plaintiff in this case is Ed Townshend’s heir. Ed Townsend is the songwriter and producer who collaborated with Gaye on his album Let’s Get It On, and shares the copyright with Gaye. title track. (Townshend, who died in 2003, was the primary songwriter for “Let’s Get It On,” earning his two-thirds of his royalties.)
Why did the trial take so long?
The lawsuit was filed in 2017 by Townsend’s daughter, Kathryn Townsend-Griffin. his sister, Helen MacDonald; and the estate of his ex-wife, Sherigale Townsend. Since then there have been a series of delays.
In 2019, the judge overseeing the case, Louis L. Stanton, appealed the “Stairway to Heaven” lawsuit, which included similar questions about which aspects of the song are adequately protected by copyright. pending the trial until In March 2020, shortly after that appeal was resolved, the coronavirus pandemic escalated, forcing a postponement of the “Thinking Out Loud” case.
For most of the last year, lawyers from both sides have been battling in pretrial paperwork over what evidence can be presented to the court.
What part of the song is being contested?
What parts of “Let’s Get It On” (1973) can be copyrighted is restricted by law. For many songs written before 1978, only the contents of the sheet music filed with the Copyright Office (known as “deposited copies”) are protected. On “Let’s Get It On”, the notation was skeleton, just chords, lyrics and vocal melody. Other key aspects of the song, such as the bassline and the signature opening guitar riff, were absent.
This means that the lawsuit mainly comes down to the chord progressions of the two songs, which are nearly, if not completely, identical.
Both songs are based on a sequence of four chords in an ascending pattern, but in “Thinking Out Loud” the second chord in the progression is slightly different than the one used in “Let’s Get It On”. (A musicologist retained by plaintiffs acknowledged differences in the analyzes presented to the court, but said the two chords were “virtually interchangeable.”)
The case may depend on how distinctive this chord progression is. Sheeran’s lawyers argue that chords are common building blocks and fair game for any musician. In court papers, Sheeran’s musicologist notes that a dozen songs, including hits such as The Seekers’ “Georgy Girl” and Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” preceded “Let’s Get It On” with the same basics. It points out that a typical sequence is used. Evidenced guitar textbooks cite it as a standard progression that any musician can use to write a song.
Plaintiffs argue that even though the chords are public property, certain methods used in “Let’s Get It On”, including the song’s syncopated rhythmic patterns, are the “selection and placement” of the elements to be protected. claimed to be sufficiently original in. Copyright.
What are the stakes?
After the “Blurred Lines” ruling, musicians and legal scholars have come to believe that the case obscures the commonly understood rules about which aspects of music can be owned by individual songwriters and which musicians are free to use. expressed concern that Music copyright claims have increased, and some songwriters have reportedly second-guessed themselves in the studio to make sure their compositions were clear.
The Led Zeppelin lawsuit changed that trajectory, ruling that some elements of the creative work were so commonplace that only “substantially identical” versions infringed copyright. Some experts fear that further turmoil could follow if Sheeran loses.
“In this case, a very common chord progression set to a basic harmony rhythm is privatized,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a law professor at Duke University who specializes in music copyright. increase. Every songwriter’s tool is the material in his kit. “
Townsend’s heiress says he protects his work from another song that stole the “heart” of its music.
What other cases are related to these two songs?
The lawsuit, known as Griffin v. Sheeran, is one of three lawsuits in the Southern District of New York that include copyright infringement charges against “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On.”
The other two were filed by Structured Asset Sales, the company that owns an 11.11% interest in “Let’s Get It On,” and purchased a portion of the rights owned by one of Townshend’s sons. Structured Assets Sales is a so-called bowie bond David Bowie in the 90’s.
Of these two cases, one may go to another trial and the other is pending initial resolution.
Has Sheeran faced copyright lawsuits before?
yes. In 2016, the two songwriters of “Amazing”, performed by Matt Cardle, winner of the British television competition “X Factor”, accused Sheeran of copying aspects of the song for their hit “Photograph.” I sued. The case was settled a year later, and the “Amazing” writers were added to the “Photograph” credits.
Last year, Sheeran successfully defended himself in a UK court infringement lawsuit relating to another of his hits, “Shape of You.” Sheeran then spoke in personal terms about the cost of defending against such accusations, saying his recent flood of lawsuits is “really damaging to the songwriting industry.”
“Pop music has too many notes and too few chords,” Sheeran posted in the video. Instagram“With 60,000 songs released on Spotify every day, there are bound to be coincidences.”
He added, “This really has to end.”