Pop singer Ed Sheeran took the witness stand on Tuesday in a closely watched copyright trial in which he is accused of copying his ballad “Thinking Out Loud” from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” , and told a jury that he and a collaborator wrote their song based on their own experiences.
Appearing in Manhattan federal court in a dark suit and blue tie, his red hair tousled, Mr Sheeran was questioned by attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, who own some of the writing rights to Gaye’s song , whether Mr. Sheeran and his co-writer, Amy Wadge, had created “Thinking Out Loud” independently.
“Yes, Amy Wadge and I wrote the song ‘Thinking Out Loud,'” Mr Sheeran said, explaining that they created the song, about clinging to romance throughout a long life, after seeing the affection between his elderly grandparents.
The case was brought by the family of Ed Townsend, a producer and songwriter who created “Let’s Get It On” with Gaye in 1973. They claim that the “heart” of “Let’s Get It On” – a four-chord progression that repeats in a signature syncopated rhythm – was copied by Mr. Sheeran. Lawyers for Mr. Sheeran argue that these elements are basic elements of music that are in the public domain and have appeared in many other songs.
In his opening statements, Ben Crump, an attorney for the plaintiffs, urged the jury to use “common sense” in comparing the songs, and said the evidence in the case included what he described as “a smoking gun”: a fan video from a concert that showed Sheeran performing a “mash-up”, or medley, in which he moved seamlessly between “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On”.
“This concert video is an admission,” said Mr. Crump, who is best known as a civil rights lawyer who represented the family of George Floyd, who was killed by police in 2020.
After a delay during which the judge in the case, Louis L. Stanton, viewed the video in private, it was played to the jury. Another plaintiffs attorney, Keisha D. Rice, questioned Mr. Sheeran about the performance.
He said he frequently performs such mash-ups in concert, and is able to do so because many pop tracks only involve a handful of chords.
“Most pop songs can fit most pop songs,” Mr. Sheeran said. “I just mix a song with another song,” he added.
When asked, Mr Sheeran was never directly challenged whether he had copied from “Let’s Get It On”, which he said he first heard in an “Austin Powers” movie.
He described part of the making of “Thinking Out Loud”, which was released in 2014, saying it started with Ms Wadge strumming a few chords on a guitar. He added more, and they “went back and forth” on other parts.
“That’s kind of how songwriting works,” Mr. Sheeran said.
Mr Sheeran also spoke of a different influence on ‘Thinking Out Loud’, saying that once the song was recorded, ‘it sounded like it was emulating Van Morrison, production-wise’. He cited several pieces by Mr. Morrison that have similar chord structures.
After his song was released, Mr Sheeran testified, Mr Morrison visited him for breakfast and said how much he loved the track. The two are now friends, Mr. Sheeran said.
Sheeran’s attorney Ilene S. Farkas said in her opening statement that the two songs share common ingredients found in many tracks and are in the public domain for any musician.
She said plaintiffs “cannot own these common musical elements.”
The first witness, called just before noon, was Kathryn Griffin Townsend, Mr Townsend’s daughter and only direct surviving heir.
Dressed in a tan coat with the word “integrity” written across the back, Ms. Griffin Townsend testified that once “Thinking Out Loud” was released, many acquaintances in the music business called her for the warn, saying the similarity struck them. . “Some said the words were just changed,” she said, people would tell her. “It’s ‘let’s go’.”
She said she tried to reach representatives from Sony/ATV, the music publishing giant that represents Townsend’s catalog – as well as Mr Sheeran’s – but was never able to reach anyone. there and received no response. On cross-examination, however, Mr. Sheeran’s lawyers pointed out that Ms. Griffin Townsend’s lawyers had been in lengthy correspondence with Sony/ATV about her claim.
She said she still wanted someone at Sony/ATV — the company has since been renamed Sony Music Publishing — to simply explain the business to her.
“Paper doesn’t speak to me,” she said. “I work best with human contact.”
Ms Griffin Townsend praised Mr Sheeran as ‘a great entertainer with a great future’ and said she reluctantly brought the case, saying she was not a ‘rights troll’. ‘perpetrator’ – a term that generally describes an aggressive and litigious copyright owner whose primary money-making strategy is threatening or suing.
“I have to protect my father’s legacy,” she says.
Mr. Sheeran’s celebrity status was noted throughout the courthouse, with heads turning as he entered and exited the courtroom, public restrooms and even the cafeteria, where he ordered a sub- marinated meatballs.
At the end of Mr. Sheeran’s testimony, his lawyers said they would not cross-examine him, but would call him back to the stand at another point in the trial.