The Townsend family claims that Sheeran's Grammy-winning song "Thinking Out Loud" uses harmonic progressions, and melodic and rhythmic elements central to "Let's Get It On." Townsend co-wrote the lyrics and created the musical composition for "Let's Get It On," which was a Number One hit for Gaye in 1973.
"The Defendants copied the 'heart' of 'Let's' and repeated it continuously throughout 'Thinking,'" the lawsuit claims. "The melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic compositions of 'Thinking' are substantially and/or strikingly similar to the drum composition of 'Let's.'"
A representative for Sheeran was not immediately available for comment.
The Townsend's lawsuit comes just months after songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard sued Sheeran for $20 million for plagiarism. The pair claimed Sheeran's X hit "Photograph" bore "verbatim note-for-note" similarities to their song, "Amazing," recorded by X Factor winner Matt Cardle in 2012 (Cardle, however, has distanced himself from the lawsuit).
The "Let's Get It On"/"Thinking Out Loud" suit also comes one year after the Gaye family successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell for $7.4 million for unlawfully copying "Got to Give It Up" on "Blurred Lines." While the Gaye family is not involved in the Townsend's suit against Sheeran, the precedent set in their case looms over all new copyright infringement claims. Notably, the court took into account not just sheet music, but studio arrangement too, and ruled that "Blurred Lines" significantly aped the vibe of "Got to Give It Up," something that had previously been beyond copyright protection.
Ed Sheeran – "Thinking Out Loud"
Marvin Gaye – "Let's Get It On"