Ed Sheeran wins ‘Let’s Get It On’ copyright infringement trial
Ed Sheeran did not infringe the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” when he wrote his 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud”, a New York jury found on Thursday, ending a long-running case that the music industry warned could inhibit songwriters.
The British pop sensation, who was present throughout the two-week trial in New York and testified in his defence, was accused of copying the “harmonic, melodic and rhythmic” elements of Gaye’s 1973 track, while not paying royalties to the songwriters’ estates.
Sheeran’s lawyers conceded that the compositions shared similar “building blocks”, including a particular chord progression, but argued that was true of many pop songs.
The verdict ends one of the most significant music copyright trials in years, as songwriters increasingly worry about the hazy lines between inspiration and theft.
“I’m very happy with the outcome of the case, and it looks like I’m not having to retire from my day job after all,” Sheeran told reporters on the courthouse steps.
“At the same time I’m unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all,” he added. “Chords are common building blocks which were used to create music long before ‘Lets Get it On’ was written, and will be used to make music long after we are all gone.
“They are in a songwriter’s alphabet, our toolkit and should be there for all of us to use. No one owns them . . . in the same way that nobody owns the colour blue.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who included the daughter of the late Ed Townsend, who co-wrote Gaye’s hit, played a fan-shot video recording of a Zurich concert in 2014, at which Sheeran mashed up his song with “Let’s Get it On” live on stage.
Responding to the video, which plaintiffs called a “smoking gun”, Sheeran told the court: “Quite frankly, if I had done what you are accusing me of doing, I would be quite an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20,000 people and do that.”
He strummed a guitar in front of jurors to demonstrate how easily several popular songs could be mashed up.
Sheeran testified that he and co-composer Amy Wadge had written “Thinking Out Loud” during a multi-day writing session in Suffolk. He said his entourage soon noticed similarities between the track and Van Morrison’s songs, rather than Gaye’s.
“Although this decision doesn’t set a direct legal precedent (as all such cases tend to turn on their particular factual circumstances), the outcome here will be reassuring to many within the music industry,” Nick Eziefula, music and copyright lawyer at Simkins, said of the verdict.
He added it would “ease concerns of floodgates being opened to ever more song infringement claims of this kind”.
Sheeran won a separate copyright case last year involving another one of his songs, “Shape of You”, while Gaye’s estate won a case in 2015 against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams alleging the artists had infringed the copyright of a different track, “Got to Give it Up”, with their hit “Blurred Lines”.
At the time, Williams warned that the verdict would “handicap” musicians. Williams and Thicke were ordered to pay $5mn to Gaye’s estate, as well as ongoing royalties.