Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ed Sheeran’s Marvin Gaye Lawsuit: Singer Makes a Lot of Soundalike Music, He Is His Own Worst Enemy Whether He Wins or Loses


Ed Sheeran is his own worst enemy.

Proficient at playing the guitar, he also has a good ear. He can hear a catchy hook easily and stores it in his head.

He’s on trial in New York right now for lifting his “Thinking Out Loud” from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.” The heirs of Ed Townsend, writer of that song, are not amused. But I’m not surprised. Every time I heard that song on the radio, I thought: this is “Let’s Get it On.” Will the Townsends win? If they do, this will cause upheaval in the music business.

This isn’t Sheeran’s first time at the rodeo. He had to admit in 2017 that his hit. “Shape of You,” came from TLC’s “No Scrubs.” The writers of the latter song got credit on the former, and paid handsomely.

Sheeran settled another case in 2014, over his song “Photograph.” There have been other complaints and maybe settlements we don’t know about it. His mega hit, “Perfect,” sounds a lot like “Unchained Melody.”

Indeed, Sheeran’s issue is that in his generation, sampling is common place. Alicia Keys has done it many times. I broke a story when her “Girl on Fire” came out. She lifted the chorus of “Hey There Lonely Girl” without permission. Why not? It sounded good. Her “New York” song is built on “Love on a Two Way Street.” Even John Legend reworked “Stormy,” the Classics IV hit, for his “Save Room.”

Some songs are just soundalikes, and not actual plagiarism. Bruno Mars’ “Locked out of Heaven” sounds like it’s a Sting song from the Police. But Mars is careful not to pick one particular song, just Sting’s sound. Sting and Marvin Gaye are often “copied.” Robin Thicke didn’t get away with it on “Blurred Lines.” He also has other pseudo-Gaye songs in his catalog. With Sting, Puff Daddy tried to snatch “Every Breath You Take” for “I’ll Be Missing You.” He wound up turning over all the royalties.

Will the Townsends win? I hope, but you never know. Sheeran has taken the stand, which could sway the jurors in his favor. But isn’t it time he stops making music that sounds like someone else’s? He can do better.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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