Two down, one to go. In recent years, Ed Sheeran has faced three copyright trials over similarities between his song Thinking Out Loud (2014) & Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On (1973). The first claim was lodged 8 years ago by the heirs of Ed Townsend (co-writer of Let’s Get It On with Marvin Gaye). The second and third claims were lodged by David Pullman.
Pullman, an investment banker who owns part of the copyright owing to Townsend, started litigation 5 years ago. His first claim related to the sheet music for Thinking Out Loud and essentially duplicated the claim brought by Townsend’s heirs. It was dismissed on 16 May by the judge who presided over the (failed) case brought by Townsend’s heirs.
The above video recaps a key moment in the hearing of the case brought by Townsend’s heirs. In a bold and dramatic move, Ed Sheeran played guitar on the witness stand to demonstrate to the jurors that the disputed chord progression and rhythm found in Thinking Out Loud can be heard in many songs, including songs that predate Let’s Get it On. On 4 May 2023, after a short deliberation, the jury found in Ed Sheeran’s favour. To say that Sheeran was delighted would be an understatement.
Ed Sheeran had reason to be happy. As he says in the video, the case cost him a lot of money and placed him under undue pressure. He felt so strongly about the matter that he promised to give up his music career if the jury found against him. To make matters worse, the hearing caused Sheeran to miss the funeral of his grandmother in Ireland. Here is Eyes Closed, the lead single from Ed Sheeran’s latest album Subtract, which was released on 5 May, the day after the “heir” case was decided.
The first copycat case brought by David Pullman (regarding the Thinking Out Loud score) was meant to go to jury, but in throwing out the case district judge Louis Stanton (Manhattan) indicated that the case had no chance of succeeding. Stanton wrote, “It is an unassailable reality that the chord progression and harmonic rhythm in Let’s Get It On are so commonplace, in isolation and in combination, that to protect their combination would give Let’s Get It On an impermissible monopoly over a basic musical building block.”
The remaining Pullman case involves similarities between the recorded version of Thinking Out Loud and the recorded version of Let’s Get it On. It has yet to be heard, but, if I was David Pullman, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
Subtract is the fastest-selling album in the UK this year so far. It is currently topping the charts in both the UK and the USA. If you would like to see more from Ed Sheeran, you can subscribe to their YouTube channel or follow them on Facebook or Instagram. You can also visit their official website for more information.