A Lawsuit Against Ed Sheeran Depends on One Against Led Zeppelin

In music, the two most high-profile court cases are the copyright infringement lawsuits against Ed Sheeran and Led Zeppelin — and now the outcome of the former is being tied to that of the latter.

A Manhattan judge canceled a scheduled September jury trial for the  case against Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” this week, saying he wants to wait for the resolution of a case against Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The heirs of Ed Townsend sued Sheeran in 2016, alleging that the singer-songwriter’s 2014 “Thinking Out Loud” lifted major harmonic progressions and rhythmic elements from Marvin Gaye’s 1973 “Let’s Get It On,” which Townsend co-wrote. Led Zeppelin, meanwhile, has been embroiled in a years-long case brought by Californian band Spirit, which claims the famous opening of “Stairway to Heaven” rips off its 1968 track “Taurus.” While the two cases have no personnel in common, their similarities in nature and timeline, not to mention level of visibility, are causing the pause.

The judge in the Townsend-Sheeran case, Louis Staton, said this week that the two parties should “take the summer off!” and that he will summon them after the Spirit-Zeppelin case is decided, according to Law360. If “Stairway to Heaven” — which is due for a rehearing in September after being tossed through years of flip-flopping decisions — makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court, it means the “Thinking Out Loud” case could be postponed until well into 2020.

Music plagiarism cases are notoriously finicky, often dragging on for years and yielding seemingly arbitrary results. While Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had to shell out nearly $5 million in a settlement to the estate of Marvin Gaye in 2018 over their 2013 song “Blurred Lines,” a number of smaller-scale attempts on other big songs have been unsuccessful, and even the Spirit-Zepp case was deemed dead in the water by a jury three years ago. (It was revived on appeal, and a new court said the prior jury had a “misunderstanding” of copyright law.)

All that is to say that there are myriad ways “Thinking Out Loud” could go at this point. Sheeran last settled a lawsuit over another one of his hits, “Photograph,” for $20 million in 2017.

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