The Ed Sheeran Copyright Trial, Explained

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Ed Sheeran was recently part of a copyright trial that has been playing out for several years. The trial was about whether Ed Sheeran copied parts of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” for his own song “Thinking Out Loud.” The trial has now ended, but what was the result? Read on below to find out.

What exactly were the allegations?

The prosecution in the trial was the family and heirs of Ed Townsend, a songwriter and producer who worked on Marvin Gaye’s album Let’s Get It On. The prosecution alleged that Sheeran copied parts of “Let’s Get It On,” the title track of the album, for his 2014 song “Thinking Out Loud.”

Townsend’s estate initially filed the suit against Sheeran way back in 2016, and the singer-songwriter has been dealing with the issue ever since. Sheeran was even forced to miss his grandmother’s funeral to stay at the trial.

The trial

The trial began on April 25th, 2023 at Manhattan Federal Court in New York City. In what may have been one of the main points that won his case, Ed Sheeran cleverly testified with his guitar in hand. He played the chords from “Thinking Out Loud” and noted that in addition to “Let’s Get It On,” there were many other songs that used the same basic chord progression. Sheeran even played a medley of 101 different songs that used the same chords, some from before Gaye and Townsend originally wrote “Let’s Get It On.”

Sheeran’s team argued that allowing the lawsuit to go through would attack the fundamental building blocks of music and songwriting and discourage creativity from artists. As they and many others have argued, no one should be able to copyright a rhythm or a chord progression, as it goes against the nature of music and creativity.

Sheeran’s legal counsel, Ilene S. Farkas, argued toward the end of the trial that the case was one “that should have never been brought” in the first place. Throughout the trial, Sheeran and his legal team maintained that he and co-writer Amy Wadge had written the song entirely from scratch. Sheeran even stated that he would completely quit writing music if found guilty of copying the song.

The jury’s decision

On May 2, the jury found that Ed Sheeran did not copy parts of Gaye and Townsend’s song for use in “Thinking Out Loud.” Sheeran and others in the music industry have stated that this is a big win for all musicians in an era where copyright lawsuits like this seem so common.

What we learned

By all accounts, this entire trial seems to be nothing more than another baseless attempt to get money from a popular celebrity. In fact, a similar decision was reached in the recent trial of Gwyneth Paltrow, who was sued by a man who claimed she ran into and injured him in a skiing accident in 2016. The jury, in that case, found Paltrow not guilty and even ruled in favor of her countersuit. Hopefully, this is a step forward to keep these incidents from happening.