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Updated May 4, 2023, 2:24pm EDT
North America

Ed Sheeran wins copyright case

Ed Sheeran
REUTERS/David 'Dee' Delgado
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The News

Ed Sheeran won a case brought against him by the family of singer Ed Townsend, who claimed Sheeran’s song “Thinking Out Loud” ripped off the Marvin Gaye song “Let’s Get It On,” which Townsend co-wrote, according to reports.

The two songs follow a similar chord progression, but a jury in New York found that Sheeran is not liable for copyright infringement.

In a trial that lasted over a week, Townsend’s family argued the chords, rhythm, and melodies of Sheeran’s Grammy-winner 2014 hit was too similar to Gaye’s 1973 classic. Sheeran’s legal team said the song’s elements are common in popular music.

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Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” reached number one on the Billboard Pop Singles chart in 1973, but Sheeran’s sales for “Thinking out Loud” 4.2 million sales and streams 40 years later dwarfed the sales of Gaye’s song.

Sheeran’s lawyers had argued that the lawsuit had no merit because the specific elements considered similar in the two songs were not unique enough to be covered in a copyright case.

They cited songs such as The Temptations’ “Since I Lost My Baby” as an example of a song that pre-dated “Let’s Get it On” but had similar elements in the tune.

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Sheeran testified during the trial, at one point playing a guitar and singing on the stand to show how he wrote the song.

He later said that if he were to lose the case, he would quit music. “I find it really insulting to work my whole life as a singer-songwriter and diminish it,” he said.

But in a press conference following the ruling, Sheeran said he would not be retiring after all.

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“I’m obviously very happy with the outcome of the case, and it looks like I’m not having to retire from my day job after all,” he said. “But at the same time, I am unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all.”

Members of Gaye’s family had previously sued Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. over their 2013 song “Blurred Lines,” arguing it was too similar to Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up.”

The estate was successful in that case, winning about $5 million in damages. Some songwriters worried that verdict set a bad legal precedent for artists who draw inspiration and influence from past songs and genres.

Sheeran has been at the center of other copyright claims. Last year, he and his co-writers faced accusations that his song “Shape of You” ripped off “Oh Why,” a 2015 song by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue.

A high court judge later ruled in Sheeran’s favor.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Marvin Gaye’s family sued Sheeran. The family of the song’s co-writer Ed Townsend filed the lawsuit.

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