Ed Sheeran found not guilty of copyright infringement in Let's Get It On lawsuit

Friday 05 May 2023

A New York jury ruled that Ed Sheeran did not copy key components of Marvin Gaye’s classic 1970s tune, "Let's Get It On," when he created his hit song, "Thinking Out Loud." The decision came after a two-week trial, which featured a courtroom performance by Sheeran as he insisted, sometimes angrily, that the trial was a threat to all musicians who create their own music.

Sheeran had to sit with his legal team throughout the trial, defending himself against the lawsuit filed by the heirs of songwriter Ed Townsend, who created the 1973 soul classic with Gaye. The plaintiffs claimed that "Thinking Out Loud" had so many similarities to "Let's Get It On" that it violated the song's copyright protection. However, the jury concluded that Sheeran did not infringe upon the copyright.

During the trial, Sheeran repeatedly picked up a guitar resting behind him on the witness stand to demonstrate how he seamlessly creates “mashups” of songs during concerts to “spice it up a bit” for his sizeable crowds. He argued that he had not stolen anything from "Let's Get It On" when he wrote his tune, and that he was just using a common chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters.

When Sheeran testified, he revealed that the case was being closely watched by others in the industry. "When you write songs, somebody comes after you," he said during his testimony. He insisted that he had not stolen anything from "Let's Get It On," and that he had simply drawn inspiration from it, which is something that all artists do.

Gaye was a Motown superstar since the 1960s, although his songs released in the 1970s made him a generational musical giant. Townsend, who also wrote the 1958 R&B doo-wop hit, "For Your Love," was a singer, songwriter, and lawyer who died in 2003. His daughter, Kathryn Townsend Griffin, testified during the trial that she thought Sheeran was “a great artist with a great future,” but that she had to protect her father's legacy.

"Thinking Out Loud," which came out in 2014, was a hit, winning a Grammy for Song of the Year. Sheeran's lawyers argued that the songs shared versions of a similar and unprotectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters.

Overall, the verdict is a significant victory for Sheeran, who had been facing a potentially costly lawsuit that could have affected the music industry as a whole. However, it is also a reminder that musicians must be careful when they draw inspiration from the works of others, and that copyright law is an essential tool in protecting the creative works of artists and their heirs.