Ed Sheeran triumphant as federal jury unanimously rejects ‘Let’s Get It On’ copyright infringement claim

Lots of reports .. Law & Crime’s is always the most fun to read.

Ed Sheeran’s modern classic pop ballad “Thinking Out Loud” sounds almost nothing like Marvin Gaye’s immortal soul-funk number “Let’s Get It On,” a jury in Manhattan has found, concluding that there are simply not enough similarities to sustain a claim that the newer songwriter copied the older song’s intellectual property.

The case was filed in 2017 in the Southern District of New York by the estate of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote the R&B classic with Gaye in 1973. Sheeran’s song was penned with co-writer Amy Wadge in 2014. Gaye’s heirs were not involved in the lawsuit.

Townsend’s estate, led by his daughter Kathryn Townsend Griffin, claimed that Sheeran’s chart-topping hit willfully infringed on the copyright of “Let’s Get It On” by stealing the song’s harmonic rhythm, chord progression, and other essential elements.

During the eight-day trial, musicologist expert witnesses hotly disputed that the two songs shared a harmonic rhythm.

Dr. Alexander Stewart, testifying for the plaintiffs, said the rhythms were the same. Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, testifying for the defense, said the rhythms were different. In the end, the jury of four women and three men agreed with Ferrara, an esteemed musicologist who has successfully fended off myriad copyright complaints lodged against artists like the Beastie Boys, Led Zeppelin, and Green Day.

While the rhythm was disputed, the basic chord progression of the two songs was not – and really couldn’t be, as chord progressions, on their own, cannot be copyrighted under U.S. law. The succession of chords in a song is akin to the first layer of a foundation, and on top of that comes the melody and the rhythm.

Sheeran, sitting in the witness box, testified with his hands and vocal cords by playing and singing a few bars from numerous songs that share the same four-chord progression used in “Let’s Get It On” and “Thinking Out Loud.”

From the English artist’s perspective, it was in fact another well-known singer-songwriter, from Northern Ireland, who offered the greatest influence on his songwriting style: Van Morrison.

During the trial, Sheeran played Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” to show how common chord progressions can be shared. Sheeran also testified that he and his producers came to think of “Thinking Out Loud” as his Van Morrison-style achievement, while maintaining that he and Wadge “independently created” the song, which recounts the prospective lifelong romance of a couple who will be riven by age and the loss of their physical capabilities but will never be lacking in love.

Jurors were not able to hear Gaye’s recorded version of the song because the dispute itself was only about the sheet music. The plaintiffs claimed that Sheeran copied 70% of the song, while Sheeran’s defense insisted he copied zero percent.

At one point, however, a witness for the plaintiffs claimed the notes of the first 24 seconds of each song are identical. While on the stand, Sheeran flatly rejected that accusation and said that the mischaracterization of his music was “criminal.”

The defense cast the fight as a battle for creation and artistic expression itself – with the singer-songwriter even going so far as to say that he would quit making music if the verdict came out against him.


Ed Sheeran triumphant as federal jury unanimously rejects ‘Let’s Get It On’ copyright infringement claim