A Jury Has Ruled That Ed Sheeran Didn’t Copy Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”
Five years ago, zzzzzs-inducing ginger crooner Ed Sheeran was hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit for allegedly snatching pieces of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On for his 2014 song Thinking Out Loud. The lawsuit was filed by the estate of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote 1973’s Let’s Get It On with Marvin Gaye. Ed Townsend’s heirs accused Ed Sheeran of stealing a “syncopated chord pattern” from Marvin’s classic wet hump anthem. Over the past two weeks, a federal jury in Manhattan heard the case, and after deliberating for three hours, they reached a verdict today. That chorus of “NOoooooOOOOs” you hear is from Ed’s fellow pop stars who have been praying for his downfall. Because Ed came out of this trial victorious.
The New York Times says that during the trial, Ed’s team didn’t deny that the chords in the two songs sounded similar but argued that the chord pattern is not at all unique and is used to build many songs. Put tiny Detective La Toya-brand deerstalker caps on your ears and let them decide if Ed stole from a fellow Ed:
The jury sided with Ed Sheeran and found him “not liable.” They ruled that Ed Sheeran doesn’t owe Ed Townsend’s estate a cent, and he can continue to freely spend some of his millions on more Hammaconda-sized marble dick statues for his famous friends.
After the verdict was read, Ed Sheeran hugged his lawyers before walking over to Ed Townsend’s daughter, Kathryn Griffin Townsend. He said a few words to her before they hugged it out. Kathryn told reporters that she was standing up for her father’s legacy and was up against an army, but she respects the jury’s decision. Ed, who co-wrote Thinking Out Loud with Amy Wadge and Julian Williams, celebrated the decision outside of the courthouse. Ed testified during the trial that if a jury found him liable for plagiarism, elevators everywhere would go quiet since he’d quit making music. Ed brought that up while talking to reporters today by saying that he’s happy he doesn’t have to retire from music now. Ed also called it a win for creative freedom:
I am obviously very happy with the outcome of the case and it looks like I don’t have to retire from my day job after all. At the same time, I am unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all.
We have spent the last eight years talking about two songs with dramatically different lyrics, melodies and four chords which are also different and used by songwriters every day, all over the world. These chords are common building blocks which were used to create music long before ‘Let’s Get It On’ was written and will be used to make music long after we are all gone. They are a songwriter’s alphabet, our tool kit, and should be there for us all to use. No one owns them or the way they are played, in the same way, nobody owns the color blue.
Unfortunately, unfounded claims like this one are being fuelled by individuals who are offered as experts in musical analysis. In this instance, the other side’s musicologist left out words and notes, presented simple and different pitches as melody, and by doing so, creating misleading comparisons and disinformation to find supposed similarities where none exist. I think we’ve proved for all to see that they tried to manipulate my and Amy’s song to try to convince the jury that they had a genuine claim, and I am very grateful that the jury saw through those attempts. This seems so dangerous to me, both for potential claimants who may be convinced to bring a bogus claim, as well as those songwriters facing them. It is simply wrong. By stopping this practice, we can also properly support genuine music copyright claims so that legitimate claims are rightly heard and resolved.
If the jury had decided this matter the other way, we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters. We need to be able to write our original music and engage in independent creation without worrying at every step of the way that such creativity will be wrongly called into question. Like artists everywhere, Amy and I work hard to independently create songs which are often based around real-life, personal experiences. It is devastating to be accused of stealing other people’s songs when we have put so much work into our livelihoods.
I am just a guy with a guitar who loves writing music for people to enjoy. I am not and will never allow myself to be a piggy bank for anyone to shake.
Here’s Ed giving that whole speech:
"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," Ed Sheeran said after a jury determined that he did not wrongfully copy compositional elements or melodies from “Let’s Get It On” https://t.co/KfWTtvsVoU pic.twitter.com/X5r5mWVdRF
— CNN (@CNN) May 4, 2023
This wasn’t the first copyright infringement case involving a Marvin Gaye song. In 2015, a jury ruled that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ Blurred Lines copied Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit Got to Give It Up. They were ordered to pay Marvin Gaye’s estate $5 million in damages.
I’m no musicologist, but I’ve listened to Let’s Get It On and Thinking Out Loud several times today, and they don’t sound similar to me. One song (Let’s Get It On) makes me want to slow shimmy and drop it low, and the other (Thinking Out Loud) makes me feel like I should be flipping through a tattered 5-year-old copy of Good Housekeeping while sitting in my doctor’s waiting room. And jurors may want to consider joining the Witness Protection Program because Ed Sheeran haters will come for them now that he’s not retiring from music.
Pic: Udo Salters/startraksphoto.com