British pop star Ed Sheeran has been cleared of plagiarism charges by a US jury, who ruled on Thursday that his 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud” did not copy Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” The lawsuit was filed by the heirs of Gaye’s co-writer, Ed Townsend, who claimed that the harmonic progressions and rhythmic elements of Sheeran’s song were lifted from the classic, without permission. They sought a share of the profits from Sheeran’s song.
Sheeran, 32, played several songs from the witness stand as he gave evidence in the civil trial. The English musician testified that he writes most of his songs in a day, and co-wrote “Thinking Out Loud” with singer-songwriter Amy Wadge, a regular partner. They wrote the song together at Sheeran’s home in February 2014.
“We sat guitar to guitar,” Sheeran said, according to US media. “We wrote together quite a lot.”
The jurors were tasked with deciding whether Sheeran’s song and Gaye’s classic are substantially similar and whether their common elements are protected by copyright law. Townsend’s family had pointed out that the group Boyz II Men had performed mash-ups of the two songs, and that Sheeran has blended the songs together on stage as well.
Sheeran’s team contested the allegations, saying “there are dozens if not hundreds of songs that predate and postdate” Gaye’s song, “utilizing the same or similar chord progression.” A musicologist retained by the defense says in court documents that the four-chord sequence was used in a number of songs before Gaye’s hit came out in 1973.
The industry closely followed the copyright lawsuit as it could have set a precedent for protections on songwriters’ creations and opened the door to legal challenges elsewhere. It was the second trial in a year for Sheeran, who successfully testified at a London court last April in a case centered around his song “Shape Of You,” saying that lawsuit was emblematic of copyright litigation going too far. The judge ruled in his favor.
Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” won him a Song of the Year prize at the Grammys in 2016 and shot up America’s Billboard Hot 100 charts when it was released.
There have been a flood of such copyright trials in recent years, notably in 2016 when Gaye’s family successfully sued the artists Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. over similarities between the song “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.”
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