I always love starting my morning with the Today Show, but I especially love it when they report on a BA-Relevant News Story, namely about the ongoing lawsuit between Ed Sheeran and the Ed Townsend estate over Marvin Gaye's, "Let's Get It On".
Lots of articles out there about this, but here's a general TLDR:
Marvin Gaye's co-writer on the song was a dude named Ed Townsend, and Ed's daughter filed the copyright infringement lawsuit in 2017. Now it's finally going to trial and one piece of evidence that was in limbo until a few days ago was a fan-shot video of Ed doing a mashup of the songs during a 2014 concert.
The judge ultimately decided to allow the clip to be shown, despite the fact that the jury is only supposed to consider the basic building blocks of the composition i.e. sheet music. The plaintiff's lawyers are calling it "a smoking gun" / "confession" but Sheeran has testified that he's done this with other songs and argued that if he really stole from "Let's Get it On," it would be unwise to highlight it this way. “If I did what you’re accusing me of, I’d be an idiot to stand in front of people," said Sheeran, 32. Fast-forward to ~4:00ish to see it.
There's some interesting context on the specifics of copyright law and musicology involved from this NYT article:
A quirk of the law restricts which aspects of “Let’s Get It On” (1973) are under copyright. For many songs made before 1978, only the contents of the sheet music submitted to the Copyright Office (known as the “deposit copy”) are protected. With “Let’s Get It On,” that notation was skeletal: just chords, lyrics and a vocal melody. Other key aspects of the song, like its bass line and signature opening guitar riff, were absent. That means that the lawsuit primarily comes down to the chord progressions of the two songs, which are nearly — but not entirely — identical. Both songs are based on a sequence of four chords in an ascending pattern, but on “Thinking Out Loud” the second chord in the progression is slightly different from the one used in “Let’s Get It On.” (A musicologist retained by the plaintiffs acknowledged the difference in an analysis submitted to the court, but called the two chords “virtually interchangeable.”) The case may hinge on just how distinctive this chord progression is. Mr. Sheeran’s lawyers argue that the chords are generic building blocks and are fair game for any musician. In filings with the court, Mr. Sheeran’s musicologist notes more than a dozen songs, including hits like the Seekers’ “Georgy Girl” and Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” used the same basic sequence before “Let’s Get It On.” A guitar textbook submitted in evidence cites it as a standard progression that can be used by any musician to write a song. The plaintiffs argue that even if the chords are public domain, the specific way they were used in “Let’s Get It On,” including the song’s syncopated rhythmic pattern, is original enough in its “selection and arrangement” of those elements to be protected by copyright.
For a deeper dive here's a side by side comparison video to add to the conversation... we'll let you be the Judge!