Ed Sheeran Wins Copyright Trial as Jury Finds He Didn’t Copy Marvin Gaye
The "Thinking Out Loud" singer argued that the trial was a threat to all musicians who create their own music.
A Manhattan federal jury on Thursday (May 4) cleared Ed Sheeran of allegations that his “Thinking Out Loud” infringed the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s famed “Let’s Get It On,” allowing the star to avoid millions in potential damages.
After a closely-watched trial before a packed courtroom, the seven-person jury issued a verdict that Sheeran hadn’t infringe upon the copyright of the soul classic. Following the verdict, he briefly put his hands over his face in relief and hugged his lawyer, according to the Associated Press. As jurors left the courtroom, Sheeran quietly mouthed the words “thank you” in their direction. He then spoke for about 10 minutes with the plaintiffs, including the daughter of Ed Townsend, who co-created the 1973 soul classic with Gaye. They hugged and smiled with each other.
If he’d been found liable, Sheeran would have been facing millions in potential damages and could have been forced to change the credits on his song. After a jury verdict in 2015 that found Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams‘ megahit “Blurred Lines” had infringed Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” the two stars were ultimately ordered to pay a $5 million judgment, plus ongoing royalties from their song.
The verdict came nearly seven years after Sheeran was first sued by the heirs of Ed Townsend, Gaye’s longtime producer who co-wrote “Let’s Get It On,” over “Thinking Out Loud” — a commercial and critical success that hit No. 2 on the Hot 100 before winning the Grammy Award for song of the year. (Gaye’s actual heirs, who won the verdict over “Blurred Lines” are not involved in the case.)
In their suit, Kathryn Townsend Griffin and other heirs of Ed Townsend said Sheeran had “knowingly and intentionally infringed” the earlier tune, stealing the “heart” from one of the most “instantly recognizable songs in R&B history.”
The trial, taking place at the U.S. federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan, kicked off Tuesday with opening statements from both sides. Benjamin Crump, representing Griffin, told the jury to use their “common sense” to see that the pop star had stolen the “magic” from the earlier song. But Sheeran’s attorney, Ilene Farkas, said Griffin had not right to monopolize the “exceedingly common musical building blocks” featured in both songs. “Plaintiffs do not own them, because nobody does,” Farkas said. “All songwriters draw from this same basic toolkit.”
Later that same day, jurors then heard testimony from Sheeran himself, who strongly denied the allegations and insisted that he be allowed — over complaints from opposing attorneys — to offer additional context to defend his actions: “I feel like you don’t want me to answer because what I’m going to say is going to make quite a lot of sense,” Sheeran said.
One key piece of evidence during the trial was a video clip from a 2014 concert, in which Sheeran seamlessly switches from “Thinking” to “Lets” and back again, drawing huge cheers from the crowd. Crump called it a “smoking gun” against the star: “That concert video is a confession.”
But Sheeran and his lawyers said the video simply underscored the fact that he had done nothing wrong by using a basic set of chords that appear in many songs: “Quite frankly, if I’d done what you’re accusing me of, I’d be an idiot to stand up in front of 20,000 people and do that,” the singer said from the witness stand.
Later in the week, jurors heard testimony from Amy Wadge, who co-wrote “Thinking” with Sheeran (but isn’t named as a defendant), and Jake Gosling, who produced the song (also not named as a defendant). And both sides called their own musicologists — Lawrence Ferrara for Sheeran and Alexander Stewart for the Townsends — who offered dueling expert testimony about whether the similarities between the two tracks met the legal requirements for copyright infringement.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.