Saturday, September 23, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, September 23, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Estate of ‘Let’s Get It On’ writer loses Ed Sheeran copyright case

The victory for Ed Sheeran comes seven years after Marvin Gaye’s children won a landmark multimillion judgment against “Blurred Lines” creators.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A jury found Ed Sheeran not liable Thursday to the estate of Marvin Gaye’s co-writer on “Let’s Get It On,” who accused the Brit of wholesale copying the melody from the 1973 R&B classic for his 2014 hit song “Thinking Out Loud.”

The New York jury of four women and three men deliberated for three hours before returning a special verdict form that found Sheeran had proven independent creation of “Thinking Out Loud.” The family of “Let’s Get It On” co-writer Ed Townsend claimed at trial that some 70% of Sheeran’s song had been copied.

Sheeran breathed an audible sigh of relief as the verdict was read aloud in the courtroom, stood up and hugged his lawyers.

Outside of the courthouse afterward, Sheeran said he was "obviously very happy with the outcome of the case" but "at the same time, I am unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all."

“I am just a guy with a guitar who loves writing music for people to enjoy," he told reporters. "I am not and will never allow myself to be a piggy bank for anyone to shake."

The civil trial in Manhattan federal court began over a week ago and was turned over to jurors for deliberations Wednesday.

During a stint on the witness stand, Sheeran on Monday said he was personally insulted by the allegations in the copyright lawsuit. He warned that a finding of liability for plagiarism would be an existential threat to the type of massively popular ballad songwriting he’s known for.

“If that happens, I'm done, I'm stopping,” he testified when asked by defense lawyer Ilene Farkas about the impact of civil trial.

Sheeran made light of the threat after the verdict on Thursday.

"Looks like I'm not going to have to retire from day job after all," he said.

Sheeran's defense at trial hinged on defining the musical elements that Townsend's family claimed to own as “commonplace and unprotectable” — an alphabet, so to speak, that songwriters use freely.

"If the jury had decided this matter the other way, we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters," Sheeran said on Thursday. 

Representatives for the Townsend estate did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the verdict. 

Before his work on "Let's Get It On," Townsend wrote the 1958 R&B doo-wop hit “For Your Love.” The Capitol Records recording artist, songwriter and lawyer died in 2003. Kathryn Townsend Griffin, his daughter, testified during the trial that she thought Sheeran was “a great artist with a great future.” 

Townsend Griffin, who has recently collaborated with the heavily sampled American funk music pioneer George Clinton, said she had hoped the lawsuit would not result in a trial, “but I have to protect my father’s legacy.”

Forensic musicologist Brian McBrearty told Courthouse News that the jury’s verdict clearing Sheeran of infringement is the correct outcome the dispute.

“Nothing in 'Thinking Out Loud' necessitates Sheeran being influenced by or even aware of ‘Let's Get It On.’ And further, even if he was, the defense is correct in that the elements observable in both works do not constitute protectable expression,” he said. “It's a relief professionally in that, as a musicologist, I won't be spending the next two years factoring in the effect of a confusing and unfortunate verdict.”

Follow @jruss_jruss
Categories / Entertainment, Media, Trials

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.