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Ed Sheeran Found Not Guilty in Marvin Gaye Copyright Infringement Case

Estate of Ed Townshend argued Sheeran plagiarized the Marvin Gaye-popularized 'Let's Get It On'
Ed Sheeran
(Credit: Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images)

Ed Sheeran was found not guilty by a Manhattan jury today (May 4) of infringing the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s 1973 classic “Let’s Get It On” with his own Grammy-winning song “Thinking Out Loud.” The suit was brought against Sheeran by the estate of “Let’s Get It On” co-writer Ed Townshend, which claimed “Thinking Out Loud” copied elements of its chord progression and melodies.

Sheeran hugged his attorneys after the verdict was announced, capping a contentious two-week trial. During it, the superstar British artist insisted the melodies of the two songs were different and that any shared musical elements were common to the art of pop music songwriting.

Sheeran even played guitar on the witness stand to demonstrate his method for writing songs (“Thinking Out Loud” is a co-write between him and Amy Wadge). Townshend’s daughter, Kathryn Townsend Griffin, testified that although she believed Sheeran is “a great artist with a great future,” she had to “protect my father’s legacy” and seek legal action for copyright infringement.

Outside the courtroom, Sheeran read the following statement to reporters:

“I am obviously very happy with the outcome of the case, and it looks like I’m not going to have 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.

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. They are a songwriter’s ‘alphabet,’ our tool kit, and should be there for us all to use. No one owns them or the way they are played, in the same way [that] nobody owns the color blue.

Unfortunately, unfounded claims like this one are being fueled by individuals who are offered as experts in musical analysis. In this instance, the other side’s musicologist left out words and notes, presented simple (and different) pitches as melody, creating misleading comparisons and disinformation to find supposed similarities where none exist. They tried to manipulate my and Amy’s song to try to convince the jury that they had a genuine claim, and I am very grateful that the jury saw through those attempts. This seems so dangerous to me, both for potential claimants who may be convinced to bring a bogus claim, as well as those songwriters facing them. It is simply wrong. By stopping this practice, we can also properly support genuine music copyright claims so that legitimate claims are rightly heard and resolved.

If the jury had decided this matter the other way, we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters. We need to be able to write our original music and engage in independent creation without worrying at every step of the way that such creativity will be wrongly called into question. Like artists everywhere, Amy and I work hard to independently create songs which are often based around real-life, personal experiences. It is devastating to be accused of stealing other people’s songs when we have put so much work into our livelihoods.

I am just a guy with a guitar who loves writing music for people to enjoy. I am not and will never allow myself to be a piggybank for anyone to shake. Having to be in New York for this trial has meant that I have missed being with my family at my grandmother’s funeral in Ireland. I won’t get that time back.”

The trial came at an almost impossibly busy time for Sheeran, whose new Aaron Dessner-produced album, Subtract, will be released tomorrow and supported by a massive North American stadium tour, which begins Saturday in Arlington, Tx.

The making of the album is chronicled on a four-part Disney+ series, The Sum of It All, which dropped yesterday. In it, Sheeran confronts the death of his best friend as well as his wife’s cancer diagnosis, which happened while she was pregnant.

Sheeran was supposed to perform material from Subtract next week during an episode of NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, but that appearance now looks unlikely in the wake of the WGA writers’ strike, which has forced most scripted late-night TV shows off the air.