Ed Sheeran didn't copy Marvin Gaye song, jury finds

The estate of Marvin Gaye's co-writer for the song "Let's Get It On" sued Sheeran for copyright infringement.
Posted at 1:47 PM, May 04, 2023

A Manhattan jury found Ed Sheeran is not guilty of copyright infringement in a case involving his Grammy Award-winning song "Thinking Out Loud."

The estate of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote the song "Let's Get It On" with Marvin Gaye, sued the British singer-songwriter for copyright infringement, alleging Sheeran copied the 1973 classic song's chord progressions and rhythmic elements in his 2014 song.

The jury reached the unanimous verdict Thursday six years after the case was initially filed and just over a week after the case began.

Sheeran has long denied the "really insulting" allegations and even said he would be "done" with music if he were found guilty.

"I'm obviously 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 after the verdict. "But at the same time, I'm unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all."

Sheeran testified the melodies involved in the case are often used in pop songs, and he even performed live in court to demonstrate his point, playing the chords used in "Thinking Out Loud" while singing various songs from other artists, whom he testified he did not copy.

His co-writer of "Thinking Out Loud," Amy Wage, echoed his point in testimony, saying she was "just playing simple chords that I knew how to play" and that it was "not possible" for her to have infringed on another song, according to CNN.

Ben Crump, who represented the plaintiffs, said the case was about "giving credit where credit is due" in opening arguments and told jurors a videotape of Sheeran playing a mashup of the two songs during a concert was their "smoking gun," according to ABC News.

Jay Z appears outside of court.

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The trial highlighted some of the biggest issues with music copyright law, specifically the question of whether the basic building blocks of songwriting can be copied or stolen.

"These cases are kind of scary for everyone in the music industry, because what it comes down to is a jury deciding does that sound similar or identical," said Mike Mandell, a lawyer and content creator.

Other songs with the same chord progression include The Beatles' "I Feel Fine," Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" and the 1967 pop song "Georgy Girl."

Last year, Sheeran argued that his other hit song "Shape Of You" did not plagiarize "Oh Why" by the artist Sami Chokri. Sheeran and his fellow songwriters won $1.1 million in legal fees with that victory, and the artist said on Instagram:"There's only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day, and Spotify has 22 million songs a year, and there's only 12 notes that are available."

Legal experts hope Sheeran's latest courtroom victory will protect future artists from lawsuits over copyright infringement — especially when it comes to the protection of basic chord progressions, rhythms and harmonies in the public domain.

"I think there's been some bad law, and that's why I hope we get the pendulum swinging the other way," said Todd Herreman, musician and professor at Syracuse University.

With the trial behind him, Sheeran's new album "Subtract" comes out this week, and the North American leg of his stadium tour continues through the summer.