Why stop at one copyright lawsuit victory? A federal judge has dismissed with prejudice another infringement complaint filed against Ed Sheeran concerning “Thinking Out Loud” and the elements that it allegedly lifted from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
Judge Louis L. Stanton – the same judge who presided over the much-publicized “Thinking Out Loud” copyright action levied by Ed Townsend’s heirs – just recently signed off on a dismissal order in this extremely similar suit. Of course, it was only two weeks back that a jury determined 32-year-old Sheeran hadn’t borrowed from “Let’s Get It On” to create “Thinking Out Loud.”
Beyond this high-stakes courtroom confrontation, however, a company called Structured Asset Sales (SAS) sued Sheeran in 2018 for allegedly infringing upon the Gaye classic in his own mentioned hit, which has racked up a cool 2.23 billion Spotify streams. Operated by investment banker David Pullman (who’s perhaps most widely known for his “Bowie Bonds” involvement), SAS had somewhere along the line obtained a piece of the rights behind “Let’s Get It On,” per its initial complaint.
SAS maintained in the action that Sheeran had (among other things) copied the chord progression of “Let’s Get It On,” and a ruling from Judge Stanton last September suggested that the case would likewise head to trial. As initially mentioned, though, the court has this time around granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgement and dismissed the suit with prejudice.
In explaining the dismissal decision, Judge Stanton emphasized the belief that the “commonplace” components of “Let’s Get It On” at issue are “unprotectable” under stateside copyright law.
“At some level,” the judge wrote, “every work is the selection and arrangement of unprotectable elements. … That means a songwriter only has finite options for playing a commonplace chord progression. The options are so few that many combinations have themselves become commonplace, especially in popular music.”
And specifically when it comes to the 1973 Marvin Gaye track at the case’s center, the judge indicated that protecting its chord progression and harmonic rhythm would afford the work “an impermissible monopoly over a basic musical building block.”
“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,” Judge Stanton drove home, noting also that the “chord progression was used at least twenty-nine times before appearing in ‘Let’s Get It On’ and was in another twenty-three songs before ‘Thinking Out Loud’ was released.”
Bearing in mind the points, the judge granted the defendants’ dismissal motion “to prevent manifest injustice,” per the decision. At the time of this piece’s writing, Peloton-partnered Sheeran didn’t appear to have commented publicly on the development – although the singer-songwriter has already made clear his opinion of frivolous copyright suits.