After a two-week trial, a jury in New York has concluded that British pop star Ed Sheeran did not steal key components of Marvin Gaye’s classic 1970s tune “Let’s Get It On” when he created his hit song “Thinking Out Loud.” The lawsuit was brought by the heirs of songwriter Ed Townsend, who created the 1973 soul classic with Gaye, who claimed that “Thinking Out Loud” had so many similarities to “Let’s Get It On” that it violated the song’s copyright protection.
At the trial, the Townsend heirs argued that “Thinking Out Loud” had “striking similarities” and “overt common elements” that made it obvious that it had copied “Let’s Get It On.” They presented a video of a concert in Switzerland in which Sheeran segued between “Let’s Get It On” and “Thinking Out Loud,” claiming that this was “smoking gun” proof of plagiarism.
However, Sheeran defended himself throughout the trial, picking up a guitar resting behind him on the witness stand to demonstrate how he seamlessly creates “mashups” of songs during concerts to “spice it up a bit” for his sizeable crowds. He insisted that he had stolen nothing from “Let’s Get it On” when he wrote his tune.
The jury ultimately ruled in Sheeran’s favor, with his lawyers arguing that the songs shared versions of a similar and unprotectable chord progression freely available to all songwriters.
Sheeran’s song, which came out in 2014, was a hit, winning a Grammy for song of the year. The verdict in the case is being celebrated by Sheeran’s fans and supporters, as well as by the wider music industry, which was closely watching the trial.
“When you write songs, somebody comes after you,” Sheeran said during his testimony as he explained that the case was being closely watched by others in the industry. “I’m just glad it’s over.”
Marvin Gaye was a Motown superstar since the 1960s, with his songs released in the 1970s making him a generational musical giant. He was killed in 1984 at age 44, shot by his father as he tried to intervene in a fight between his parents. Ed Townsend, who also wrote the 1958 R&B doo-wop hit “For Your Love,” was a singer, songwriter, and lawyer who died in 2003. His daughter, Kathryn Townsend Griffin, testified during the trial that she thought Sheeran was “a great artist with a great future,” but she had to protect her father’s legacy.