Ed Sheeran, the British pop star has won the legal battle over the accusation that he violated the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” with the composition of his 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud,” a US jury ruled Thursday.
A Manhattan, New York federal courtroom jury ruled on Thursday that Sheeran “independently” created his song in a verdict in a lawsuit filed by heirs of Gaye cowriter Ed Townsend, who alleged that harmonic progressions and rhythmic elements of Sheeran’s song were lifted from the Marvin Gaye’s famous hit track without permission. The heirs sought a share of the profits from Sheeran’s song.
Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”, which won him a Song of the Year Award at the 2016 Grammys, shot up America’s Billboard Hot 100 charts when it was released.
During trial, Sheeran while giving evidence has reached for his guitar to play a number of songs from the witness stand. He testified that he cowrote “Thinking Out Loud” with singer-songwriter Amy Wadge, a regular partner, at his home in February 2014.
“We sat guitar to guitar.
“We wrote together quite a lot,” Sheeran said.
The jurors were tasking with deciding if Sheeran’s song and Gaye’s classic are substantially similar and if their common elements are protected by copyright law.
Townsend’s family had stated that the group Boyz II Men has performed mash-ups of the two songs, and that Sheeran has blended the songs together on stage as well.
In defence, Sheeran countered the allegations, emphasizing that “there are dozens if not hundreds of songs that predate and postdate” Gaye’s song, “utilizing the same or similar chord progression.”
His defence used a musicologist as an expert witness, who presented exhibits to document that the four-chord sequence was used in a number of songs before Gaye’s hit came out in 1973.
The suit was viewed by many industry watchers as a milestone in Copyright Law as it could have set precedent for protections on songwriters’ creations and legal challenges.
There have been a flood of such copyright trials in recent years, notably in 2016 when Gaye’s family — who is not part of the New York lawsuit against Sheeran — successfully sued the artists Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. over similarities between the song “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.”
For Sheeran, this was a second copyright trial in a year as he had successfully testified at a London court last April in a case involving his song “Shape Of You,” saying that lawsuit was emblematic of copyright litigation going too far.