NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has rejected English singer and songwriter Ed Sheeran’s request to dismiss a lawsuit accusing him of lifting from Marvin Gaye’s 1973 classic “Let’s Get It On” for his 2014 smash “Thinking Out Loud.”
In a decision made public on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in Manhattan said a jury should decide whether Sheeran, Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Atlantic Records should be liable to the estate and heirs of the late producer Ed Townsend, who co-wrote “Let’s Get It On” with Gaye.
Stanton found “substantial similarities between several of the two works’ musical elements,” including their bass lines and percussion, and said it was in dispute whether the harmonic rhythm of “Let’s Get It On” was too common to deserve copyright protection.
He also said ordinary listeners might view the songs’ “aesthetic appeal” as the same, despite defense arguments that “Thinking Out Loud” was characterized by “somber, melancholic tones, addressing long lasting romantic love” while “Let’s Get It On” was a “sexual anthem” radiating positive emotions.
Jurors “may be impressed by footage of a Sheeran performance which shows him seamlessly transitioning between [the songs],” Stanton wrote. His decision is dated Wednesday.
Sheeran has denied copying from Gaye.
Representatives for Sheeran and Atlantic did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Sony/ATV spokesman Paul Williams declined to comment.
Pat Frank, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients were looking forward to their day in court “when this matter is tried.”
Gaye was fatally shot by his father in 1984 at age 44.
Stanton oversees two lawsuits accusing Sheeran of lifting from Gaye’s song.
In the other case, Structured Asset Sales LLC, which owns one-third of Townsend’s estate, sued last June for $100 million of damages.
Structured Asset Sales is owned by David Pullman, an investment banker who in 1997 oversaw a $55 million sale of “Bowie Bonds” that made David Bowie the first musician to sell bonds backed by royalties from his catalog.
“Thinking Out Loud” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 2015. “Let’s Get It On” hit No. 1 in September 1973.
Sheeran, 27, has also faced infringement claims over his songs “Photograph” and “Shape of You.”
Other recording artists accused in recent years of copyright infringement have included Miley Cyrus, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, and Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams.
The case is Griffin et al v Sheeran et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-05221.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy