Sheeran, 27, was sued by the estate of late songwriter Ed Townsend for allegedly “ripping off” Let’s Get It On — the 1973 hit Townsend co-wrote with the late Marvin Gaye.
Thinking Out Loud is the song in question. It comes from Sheeran’s second studio album, Multiply (2014), which is often stylized as x. Stanton decided that there were “substantial similarities” between the songs, particularly with the rhythm in the drum and bass arrangements.
The judge was unsure if the rhythm and melody of Let’s Get It On was original enough to be protected by copyright. He further suggested a jury should decide whether Sheeran, his publishers (Sony/ATV) or his record label (Atlantic Records) would be liable for any resulting charges.
Stanton added that common listeners may find that the songs explore the same subject matter. However, Gaye’s hit was intended to radiate a sexual and sultry vibe as opposed to Thinking Out Loud, which exists as one of Sheeran’s many sweet and heartfelt love songs.
Since the inception of the lawsuit, Sheeran has denied all claims that he copied Let’s Get It On.
This is Sheeran’s third count of apparent “infringement” in the last few years. He was previously sought out for Photograph and Shape of You — 2017’s worldwide smash hit — from his latest album, Divide (or ÷).
It’s also the second case of copyright infringement involving Gaye’s music in the last year. His estate filed against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for their collaboration on the 2013 smash hit Blurred Lines.
Gaye’s family sued the duo after Thicke himself admitted the 1977 single Got to Give It Up was an inspiration for their song.
After five years of court dates, the suit was lost last December. Thicke, Williams and the More Water from Nazareth publishing company were ordered to pay US$5 million in fees.
The ending verdict was decided that the Gaye family are now entitled to receive 50 per cent of songwriting royalties from Blurred Lines.
In an official document, Stanton highlighted a “seamless transition” between the two songs during one of Sheeran’s live performances on the Divide world tour, suggesting that Sheeran had ill intentions.
The documents were signed on Wednesday to ensure the lawsuit will proceed. As of this writing, the Brit-pop sensation has not made any comments.