Ed Sheeran is no stranger to being sued for plagiarism. He settled a case over his song “Photograph,” giving up some songwriting credits. Then there’s the pending litigation involving Tim McGraw and Faith Hill and a song he wrote for them.
That ain’t nothing, though. Now he’s been hit was a $100 million plagiarism lawsuit by the estate of Marvin Gaye over the song “Thinking Out Loud.”
Before we go any further, let’s contrast and compare, beginning with Ed’s song.
Now he’s Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” recorded in 1973.
According to the Gaye estate, Sheeran swiped various components of “Let’s Get It On” for his composition without permission or attribution, thereby violating copyright. The lawsuit, filed in 2016 with “Let’s Get It On” co-writer Ed Townsend, has yet to be resolved.
As Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams know, you do NOT mess with the Gaye estate. They were burned for millions when the family successfully argued that “Blurred Lines” sounded way too much like “Got to Give It Up.” The defense of the song being a homage to the original did not cut it with a judge and jury. This has since led to a bunch of ambulance-chasing cases where lawyers claim that a client with an old hit has been infringed upon by a new artist. (See the whole kerfluffle around Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and the weirdness of the “Stairway to Heaven” trial.)
But now there’s a new twist.
Last month, a company called Structured Asset Sales asked to join the original lawsuit as an additional plaintiff. The founder of that company is a banker named David Pullman. Back in the 90s, he came up with the idea of buying up an artist’s catalogue for a specific period during which he would be allowed to exploit that material for commercial gain.
If this sounds like the infamous Bowie Bonds, you’re right. Same guy. He also did similar deals with the Isley Brothers and James Brown. The artists got years’ worth of royalties up front and it was up to Pullman to make that money back plus some kind of profit for himself.
At some point, Structured Assets made a deal with one of Ed Townsend’s children who claimed to own a piece of “Let’s Get It On.” It’s because of this relationship between Structured Asset and Clef Michael Townsend that they want in on the Gaye family lawsuit.
However, this request was denied by a judge who said that they waited too long to get involved. Structured Assets then filed a new lawsuit claiming copyright infringement. That will be $100 MILLION, please.
It gets even weirder. As musicologist pick apart the two songs looking for overlaps, a co-defendant on the Structured Assets side is an adopted daughter of Townsend, which may or may not affect her claim to a piece of step-dad’s music.
In other words, this whole thing is a big mess and involves far, far more than just a couple of shared notes and beats.
If this is your thing, The Hollywood Reporter has some excellent analysis here.