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Ed Sheeran Copyright Accusers Can’t Stage ‘Let’s Get It On’ Performance in Courtroom, Judge Says

With an infringement trial set for next month, the judge weighed in on two key questions about what kind of musical evidence jurors will be allowed to hear.

A federal judge says Ed Sheeran‘s copyright accusers can’t stage a live performance of Marvin Gaye’s iconic “Let’s Get It On” in the courtroom during an upcoming trial over Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” calling such evidence “unreliable and inadmissible.”

With a trial looming next month over whether Sheeran’s hit infringed Gaye‘s song, the star’s lawyers had warned that the proposed rendition would “intentionally misrepresent” the song in question in the case and, if performed in front of jurors, would constitute “grounds for a mistrial.”


In a decision Friday (March 10), U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton seemingly agreed. In a brief ruling that came without a lengthy written explanation, the judge ruled that “omissions, additions and errors” in the proposed performance of Gaye’s song made it “unreliable and inadmissible as evidence.”

But Judge Stanton declined to issue a similar ruling on a separate key question: Whether Sheeran’s accusers will be allowed to play a YouTube clip of a 2014 concert in which the star seamlessly transitioned between “Thinking” and “Let’s Get It On.”

In seeking to introduce the clip into the trial, lawyers for the accusers have argued that the mash-up video is “among the most important and critical evidence” in their case against Sheeran. The star’s attorneys have argued back that it’s falsely incriminating and will confuse jurors into ruling against the pop star.

In Friday’s decision, Judge Stanton denied Sheeran’s request to ban the video from the proceedings, meaning that the clip is fair game for now. But the judge also explicitly noted that Sheeran’s attorneys could re-raise their objections to the video at trial — meaning the infamous YouTube video might ultimately still be barred from the courtroom.

In a statement to Billboard, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs praised Judge Stanton’s ruling on the concert video: “We are very gratified that the court recognizes the significance of the fact that Mr. Sheeran elected to play ‘Let’s Get It On’ in his medley with ‘Thinking Out Loud,'” says Patrick R. Frank. “It proves the point we have asserted all along — ‘Thinking Out Loud’ would not exist but for ‘Let’s Get It On.'”

An attorney for Sheeran declined to comment on Friday’s orders.


The case against Sheeran was filed way back in 2017 by heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote “Let’s Get It On.” Gaye’s heirs, who once famously sued Robin Thicke over accusations that his “Blurred Lines” was stolen from the legendary singer, are not involved in the case.

Sheeran’s lawyers have long argued that the star did nothing wrong, claiming that “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On” share only “unprotectable and commonplace elements” that are not covered by copyright law. But Judge Stanton has repeatedly refused to decide the case in their favor, ruling that the dispute is close enough that it must be decided by a jury.

Since the start, the case has been dominated by technical legal questions about the scope of the actual copyright that Townsend’s heirs own and about what audio could be played for jurors. Could they hear the famous version of “Let’s Get It On” performed by Gaye? Or only the more bare-bones “deposit copy” featuring basic musical notation that the heirs actually own?

Back in 2020, Stanton ruled that it was the latter. He pointed out that Gaye’s famous 1973 sound recording includes many musical elements that aren’t covered in the stripped-down copyright that’s owned by Townsend’s heirs.

Faced with that ruling, both sides have prepared special audio versions to play for jurors at the upcoming trial, aiming to include only the elements from the more basic version of “Let’s Get It On.” Sheeran’s lawyers hired a musicologist from New York University to create a computer-generated recording; attorneys for his accusers hired their own musician, who created two different recordings of the song.

Last month, Sheeran’s lawyers called foul. They said the accusers’ versions were a “distortion” of the deposit copy, containing musical elements from Gaye’s famous version that don’t appear in the deposit copy. And they warned that the Townsend heirs were planning not just to play their version, but to call the musician as a witness and stage a “purported live performance” of it during the trial.

“Allowing plaintiffs’ proposed performance to be played to the jury would be irremediably prejudicial, constituting grounds for a mistrial because, once LGO is performed for the jury containing elements nowhere found in the deposit copy, it cannot be unheard by the jurors,” Sheeran’s attorneys wrote.

In Friday’s order, Judge Stanton granted that motion, excluding the accusers’ versions from the trial and barring them from performing them live. He offered little detail on his reasoning, other than the statement about “omissions, additions and errors” he said would make the versions unreliable as evidence.

Barring a delay, the upcoming trial is set to kick off on April 24.