Judge Rules on Musical Evidence Exclusions — Including a Live ‘Medley’ of ‘Let’s Get It On’ and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ — in Ed Sheeran Infringement Suit

Ed Sheeran Amazon Music
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Ed Sheeran Amazon Music
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Photo Credit: Amazon Music

Ahead of an infringement trial involving “Thinking Out Loud” creator Ed Sheeran and the estate of “Let’s Get It On” co-writer Ed Townsend, a federal court has ruled that the plaintiffs cannot stage a live performance of the latter song. However, the same ruling appears to have left the door open for the introduction of a video showing Sheeran playing a mashup of the two tracks during a concert.  

This latest development in the long-running courtroom confrontation, which initiated nearly seven years back, came to light in a new order from Judge Louis L. Stanton. Of course, the heirs of Marvin Gaye himself aren’t strangers to spearheading copyright litigation, having successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over “Blurred Lines”; after a final twist, the much-publicized case seemed to draw to a close in February of 2021.

Moreover, despite emerging victorious in a legal battle centering on 2017’s “Shape of You” last year, Ed Sheeran continues to face multiple infringement suits. The aforementioned Judge Stanton determined in 2022 that a different complaint, also concerning the alleged infringement of “Let’s Get It On” in 2014’s “Thinking Out Loud,” could proceed to trial.

But as mentioned at the outset, a separate action against Sheeran (over which 95-year-old Judge Stanton is likewise presiding) was levied by the heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

According to the complaint (filed first in 2016, dismissed because the defendants weren’t properly served, and then resubmitted against a modified list of defendants in 2017), the four-time Grammy winner lifted the chord progression and other elements of “Let’s Get It On” to create “Thinking Out Loud.”

The plaintiffs further pointed to a “mashup” performed by Ed Sheeran during a 2014 concert, maintaining that this brief “medley” of “Let’s Get It On” as well as “Thinking Out Loud” demonstrated that the older work had been used to create the newer release, which has racked up a staggering 2.18 billion Spotify streams.

And as initially highlighted, Judge Stanton has approved the Sheeran defendants’ motion in limine to exclude evidence including several articles and the liner notes for Let’s Get It On from the trial.

Similarly, the judge granted the defendants’ motion to exclude “proposed performance(s) of” “Let’s Get It On” during the trial – meaning specifically that the Townsend estate “can’t stage a live performance” of the track, according to Billboard.

Finally, regarding the previously described “mashup” of the songs around which the case is revolving, Judge Stanton relayed that the motion to exclude the evidence “is denied with leave to renew it at trial, when the Court can evaluate the other evidence and the considerations expressed in Fed. R. Evidence 403.”

Earlier this month, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were named in an infringement suit over “Living in a Ghost Town,” and DaBaby, Roddy Ricch, and others have been grappling with a different copyright action, involving “Rockstar,” since late last year.