SHEERAN/GAYE LAWSUIT HEADED TO JURY TRIAL
Steven T. Lowe
On January 3, 2019, New York District Judge Louis D. Stanton refused to grant a motion for summary judgment on the issue of whether Ed Sheeran’s song “Thinking Out Loud” infringed upon Marvin Gaye’s song “Let’s Get It On.” The case will be heard by a jury.
Judge Stanton denied Sheeran’s motion for summary judgment in the case brought by the heirs of Ed Townsend, the co-writer of “Let’s Get It On,” stating, “there are a number of disputed facts that would need to be decided with a jury trial…A jury might side with either view.”
A major question is whether Townsend’s copyright covered only a bare-bones written version of the song deposited at the Copyright Office, or the more robust recorded version featuring Gaye. On January 3, 2019, Judge Stanton refused to address this question, and responded by saying: “Regardless of whether the deposit copy or sound recording of ‘Let’s Get It On’ defines the scope of the composition’s copyright, material facts are in dispute.”
Judge Stanton further cited to a YouTube video which he said would be played at trial that included Ed Sheeran playing a mashup of the two songs in concert, and easily switching between them. Judge Stanton explained, “Not only are there substantial similarities between several of the two works’ musical elements, but an ordinary observer might experience the aesthetic appeal of both works as the same…A [jury] may be impressed by footage of a Sheeran performance which shows him seamlessly transitioning between “Let’s Get In On” and “Thinking Out Loud.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Keisha D. Rice, Patrick R. Frank and Katherine L. Viker of Frank & Rice PA.
The defendants are represented by Donald S. Zakarin, Ilene S. Farkas and Andrew M. Goldsmith of Pryor Cashman LLP.
The case is Griffin et al. v. Sheeran et al., case number 1:17-cv-05221, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
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