Ed Sheeran wins copyright case, as jury rules he did not steal Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On'
Singer had vowed that he would quit music if he was found liable for copying the classic song for his hit "Thinking Out Loud."
After three hours of deliberation, jurors in Ed Sheeran's copyright infringement trial have unanimously found that he did not copy Marvin Gaye's 1973 song "Let's Get It On" for his 2014 track "Thinking Out Loud."
"I feel like the truth was heard and the truth was believed," Sheeran told People in the courtroom just after the verdict was read. "It's nice that we can both move on with our lives now — it's sad that it had to come to this."
He gave a longer statement to reporters outside the courthouse: "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. But at the same time, I am unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all," he said, in part. "We have spent the last eight years talking about two songs with dramatically different lyrics, melodies and four chords which are also different and used by songwriters every day, all over the world. These chords are common building blocks, which were used to create music long before 'Let's Get It On' was written and will be used to make music long after we are all gone."
He explained that, as he saw it, the trial was about much more than his one song.
"If the jury had decided this matter the other way, we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters," Sheeran continued. "We need to be able to write our original music and engage in independent creation without worrying every step of the way that such creativity will be wrongly called into question."
The heirs of Gaye's co-writer on the hit, Ed Townsend, had alleged in a 2017 lawsuit that Sheeran's song, which was co-written by Amy Wadge, had "overt common elements" and "striking similarities" to the classic, while Sheeran's team argued in a court filing that any similarities are a coincidence.
"The two songs share versions of a similar and unprotectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters," Sheeran's team reportedly wrote.
The British hitmaker himself testified during the first week of the trial, saying that "most pop songs can fit over most pop songs." That squares with what he's said before, that "there's only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music." Sheeran himself has performed a mashup of the two songs in concert.
During his testimony, Sheeran pulled out his guitar to demonstrate his songwriting process for his lawyer and the jury. He even sang part of his hit that's under fire. He also said he hadn't heard Gaye's classic until after he released "Thinking Out Loud." Instead, he testified, he drew inspiration from another rock legend, Van Morrison.
Compare the songs below:
The singer notably missed his grandmother's funeral in Ireland to be in the courtroom. According to the Daily Mail, his father, John, told people at the crowded service that he was "so upset" he couldn't be there, but that he had to "be thousands of miles away in a court in America defending his integrity."
Sheeran had previously been accused of copyright infringement. In April 2022, he won a similar lawsuit in the United Kingdom over his 2017 song "Shape of You," after musician Sami Switch alleged that it was too close to his 2015 song "Oh Why." He also settled a 2016 lawsuit that accused him of having copied the 2014 song "Photograph" from Matt Cardle's tune "Amazing."
He said after his court victory in 2022 that he was happy to be vindicated, but he was frustrated.
"I feel like claims like this are way too common now and have become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking it to court, even if there is no basis for the claim," he said in a video posted to social media. "It's really damaging to the songwriting industry."
In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning held before the latest verdict, Sheeran explained further: "I just think it comes with the territory. When they say there's a hit, there's a writ, it's true. Every single hit. There's four chords that get used in pop songs and there's however many notes, eight notes or whatever, and there's 60,000 songs released every single day. And if you just think mathematically the likelihood of this song having the same chords as this song … You are going to get this with every single pop song from now on, like, unless it just stops, which I don't think it does because it's a big money business to take things to court."
He expressed frustration during his testimony in this last case, proclaiming that, if he lost, he would make a major life change.
"If that happens, I'm done, I'm stopping," Sheeran said. "I find it to be really insulting. I work really hard to be where I'm at."
Even without the favorable outcome in the trial, Sheeran was having a huge career week. The docuseries Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All, which landed on Disney+ on May 3, chronicles the making of his fifth album, Subtract, that comes out May 5, and the events that influenced the music. A big one was that Cherry Seaborn, his wife since 2019 and the mother of their two young daughters, was diagnosed with cancer last year. She's OK now, but the experience shook them both.
"The moment you find out that the worst thing in the world has happened to someone you love with all your heart, you feel like you're drowning and can't get out from under it," Sheeran revealed in the doc. "Just from that situation, all these songs came out."