Ed Sheeran is currently nearing the end of a trial in a copyright lawsuit over his hit song “Thinking Out Loud.” The lawsuit claims that Sheeran copied Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” for his own song.
The trial is being held in Manhattan federal court, with jury selection having begun over a week ago.
The heirs of songwriter Ed Townsend sued Sheeran, his label Warner Music Group, and music publisher Sony Music Publishing for allegedly ripping off Gaye’s classic, which Townsend co-wrote.
The trial is the first of three Sheeran could face from lawsuits over similarities between the two hits. Sheeran has argued that any similarities between the songs involve basic musical “building blocks” that are ineligible for copyright protection. If the jury finds Sheeran liable for copyright infringement, the Manhattan court will hold another trial to determine how much he and his labels should pay.
This is not the first time Sheeran has faced a copyright lawsuit. In 2022, he won a trial in London over his hit song “Shape of You” after a high-profile trial. A judge ruled that Sheeran did not plagiarize Sami Chokri’s 2015 song “Oh Why.” In his ruling, the judge concluded that Sheeran “neither deliberately nor subconsciously” copied a phrase from “Oh Why” when writing “Shape of You,” as Sheeran emphasized during the trial.
Sheeran has also been ordered to pay over $1.1 million in a separate copyright infringement case over “Shape of You.” The two artists who sued Sheeran for copyright infringement were ordered to pay the pop star the sum after the judge ruled that they had not infringed on the copyright.
In the current trial, Sheeran has denied the allegations and has argued that any similarities between the two songs are basic musical “building blocks” that are ineligible for copyright protection. The trial is expected to be high-profile, and if Sheeran is found liable for copyright infringement, it could have significant financial implications for him and his labels.
During his testimony, Sheeran sang and played a mashup of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and his own “Thinking Out Loud.”
The trial was interrupted last by an unexpected medical emergency when plaintiff Kathryn Townsend Griffin collapsed in court while one of her expert witnesses was undergoing cross-examination.
Sheeran, who previously expressed artistic concern over the trial – even threatening to quit music if he loses the case – has often been visibly frustrated according to multiple media reports.
Part of this frustration comes from Sheeran’s claim on the stand last week that rather than a copyright violation, the chord progression in one of the songs in issue, “Thinking Out Loud,” is a frequently used pattern that appears in various songs.
During a demonstration, Sheeran played the chords of “Thinking Out Loud” and sang several other songs, such as “Tupelo Honey” and “Crazy Love,” which also use similar chord progressions. Sheeran affirmed that there was no intention to copy those songs while creating “Thinking Out Loud,” even with audible similarities.
As attorney Michael Epstein pointed out, “This is where the heart of the legal challenge lies. There’s only so much music in the world so the legal defense here that many songs are built on similar musical patterns may be a strong one.”
The trial is expected to wrap up later this week or at the beginning of next week. Sheeran’s many fans around the world hope that no matter the result, he keeps creating.
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.
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