Ed Sheeran has been cleared of the allegation his “Thinking out Loud” song ripped off Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”.
The singer, 32, who denied the accusation that his hit stole fundamental musical elements from Gaye’s song, had faced a $100 million (R1.8 billion) lawsuit brought by the heirs of the song’s co-writer, Ed Townsend.
On Thursday, after a jury of three men and four women deliberated for less than three hours, they reached the decision that he was not guilty.
Speaking outside the court, Sheeran, who is worth $200m, said: “I’m just a guy with a guitar who loves writing music for people to enjoy. I am not and will not allow myself to be a piggy bank.”
Sheeran’s lawyer had said the case should never have been brought to court. The singer had staked his career on the outcome, saying he would be “done” with music if found guilty.
The copyright lawsuit was first brought in 2018 by the estate of the late Ed Townsend, who co-wrote the 1973 R and B classic with Gaye.
It said Sheeran and his co-writer, Amy Wadge, “copied and exploited, without authorisation or credit” the composition of “Let’s Get It On” by copying various elements, including its “melody, rhythms, harmonies, drums, bass line, backing chorus, tempo, syncopation and looping”.
Townsend’s daughter, Kathryn Griffin-Townsend, said about the lawsuit: “It is about today and standing up not only for my father’s work but all artists.”
The copyright infringement trial started on April 25 in the Manhattan Federal Court in New York. An attorney for Townsend’s heirs argued in his opening statement that a video of Sheeran performing a mash-up of “Thinking out Loud” and “Let’s Get it On” at one of his concerts in Zurich in 2014, was the “smoking gun” for their case.
Lawyer Ben Crump said: “When someone provides you (with) a voluntary confession, believe them.
“Make no mistake about it: The evidence will show that Mr Ed Sheeran… made a confession.”
The singer responded on the stand the same day the video was played: “If I had done what you are accusing me of doing, I would be quite an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20 000 people and do that.”
He also argued that the chord progression in question – 1-3-4-5 – was common in pop songs, adding: “When you’re playing a song live and it fits in the same key, most pop songs revolve in the same three or four chords.”
In 2016, songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard filed a lawsuit in which they claimed Sheeran’s “Photograph” song was “verbatim, note-for-note copying” of their 2009 song “Amazing”. The suit was settled out of court.
Sheeran was then accused of “blatantly copying” Jasmine Rae’s “When I Found You” to create his “The Rest of Our Life”, which he co-wrote for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. The lawsuit was also settled.