On Tuesday, musician Ed Sheeran appeared in court for a copyright infringement trial regarding his hit single “Thinking Out Loud.” The lawsuit is brought by the heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote Marvin Gaye’s 1973 hit “Let’s Get It On,” which Sheeran is accused of copying. Sheeran played a medley of the two songs during a concert, which Townsend’s lawyer, Ben Crump, called a “smoking gun.”
Crump attempted to portray Sheeran as someone who recognized the “magic” of Gaye’s soul song and then used it to catapult his career. Sheeran’s legal team argued that the sounds used in both songs are common in pop music, and that no one owns basic musical building blocks. Sheeran testified that the idea of creating the medley was “probably mine,” and that if he had copied “Let’s Get It On,” then he “would’ve been an idiot to stand on stage in front of 20,000 people.”
This is not the first time Gaye’s family has sued other artists for copyright infringement and won. In 2015, the estate successfully sued singer Robin Thicke and producer Pharrell Williams for $7.4 million for borrowing from Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” for their hit “Blurred Lines.”
Taylor Swift also faced a similar case in 2017 over her smash hit “Shake It Off,” which was settled and dismissed last year. Led Zeppelin was sued in 2014 over its iconic tune “Stairway to Heaven” by the estate of late Randy California, former lead guitarist of the 1960s band Spirit, for lifting part of their single “Taurus.” A 2020 appeals court ruled in Led Zeppelin’s favor.
Sheeran has also faced previous legal battles over his music and won. In a 2022 case over his song “Shape of You,” a judge ruled in Sheeran’s favor that he did not copy grime artist Sami Switch’s song “Oh Why” after the musician accused Sheeran of plagiarizing a key part. He was also sued in 2016 over his single “Photograph,” which was settled out of court.
Sheeran posted a video to his Instagram voicing his concern over the recent wave of music copyright cases. “It’s really damaging to the songwriting industry.
There’s only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day on Spotify. That’s 22 million songs a year, and there’s only 12 notes that are available,” Sheeran said. “I’m not an entity. I’m not a corporation. I’m a human being. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a son. Lawsuits are not a pleasant experience.”