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Ed Sheeran’s Lawyers Want ‘Misleading’ Concert Footage Banned From ‘Thinking Out Loud’ Trial

A clip shows Sheeran toggling between his song and a Marvin Gaye classic, but his attorneys say it's "irrelevant" to the copyright case.

In an upcoming courtroom showdown, is a YouTube video of Ed Sheeran switching between his “Thinking Out Loud” and Marvin Gaye‘s “Let’s Get It On” a smoking gun? Or just smoke and mirrors?

Facing a trial in April over whether his smash hit infringed Gaye‘s iconic song, Sheeran’s lawyers asked a federal judge Tuesday (Feb. 7) to block his accusers from citing that clip, which captures the star at a 2014 concert entertaining the crowd by seamlessly toggling between the two songs.


The problem? Sheeran’s lawyers say the mash-up video is falsely incriminating. It could look to jurors like damning evidence that Sheeran copied “Let’s Get It On,” they say, but only actually shows that both songs contain a common chord progression — one that isn’t covered by copyrights and was “freely available to all songwriters.”

“There are dozens if not hundreds of songs that predate and postdate LGO utilizing the same or similar chord progression,” Sheeran’s lawyers wrote. “These medleys are irrelevant to any issue in the case and would be misleading [and] confuse the jury.”

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, since “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On” share only “unprotectable and commonplace elements” that are not covered by copyright law. But Judge Louis D. 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.

In the lead-up to the trial, attorneys for the Townsend heirs filed a formal notice that they planned to play the YouTube clip for jurors. In the video — a 6-minute snippet of a November 2014 concert in Zurich that’s been viewed nearly 300,000 times — Sheeran abruptly switches from “Thinking” to “Lets” and back again, drawing huge cheers from the crowd.

It’s not surprising that Sheeran’s accusers want to use the medley video. In a 2019 ruling in which he sent the case to trial, Judge Stanton specifically highlighted the clip as potential evidence that might resonate with jurors, saying they “may be impressed by footage of a Sheeran performance which shows him seamlessly transitioning between LGO and TOL.”

But in Tuesday’s objections, Sheeran’s lawyers argued that the jury would be impressed for all the wrong reasons.

“The admission of this evidence will mislead the jury and cause unjustified prejudice – suggesting to the jury, inaccurately, that segueing from singing the lyrics of TOL over the TOL chord progression to singing a snippet of the lyrics of LGO over the TOL chord progression is ‘evidence’ that Sheeran copied LGO,” they wrote.

Sheeran’s lawyers also argued that letting such evidence play a key role in the upcoming trial would have a broader “chilling effect” on the music industry and on medleys, which they called an “important, enduring aspect of live concerts.”

“Such ‘mash-ups’ underscore the fact … that music has been, and always will be, built on commonplace and unprotectable musical building blocks freely available to all composers to use,” Sheeran’s lawyers wrote, but allowing it to serve as evidence would deter artists “for fear of creating a suggestion of infringement and encouraging unfounded claims.”

In a statement to Billboard, the Townsend heirs’ attorney Patrick R. Frank disagreed with Sheeran’s arguments, pointing directly to Judge Stanton’s previous ruling about the medley clip’s potential value to jurors.

“The passage of time has not diminished the acknowledged evidentiary significance of the medley,” Frank said. “I suspect that if there was, in fact, a legally-cognizable basis for [Sheeran’s motion], we would have seen the motion quite some time ago, as opposed to on the proverbial ‘eve’ an imminent trial.”

Frank will file his own formal response to Sheeran’s motion in court in the coming weeks.