Here’s what you need to know

Musician Ed Sheeran leaves US federal court in New York on April 25, 2023.

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  • Ed Sheeran was in Manhattan federal court this week in a copyright infringement lawsuit involving his 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud.”
  • The heirs of the late Ed Townsend – who co-wrote Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On’ – say Sheeran’s song copies the 1973 classic.
  • The trial is expected to last up to two weeks and will be decided by a jury.

Musician Ed Sheeran was in court this week to refute claims that his 2014 song ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is a copy of Marvin Gaye’s 1973 classic ‘Let’s Get it On’.

The high-profile copyright case was brought by the heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote “Let’s Get It On” with Gaye. The plaintiffs first filed a civil lawsuit in 2017 and are represented by a legal team that includes civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.

Townsend’s daughter, Kathryn Townsend Griffin, her sister Helen McDonald and the estate of his estranged wife, Cherrigale Townsend, are listed as plaintiffs in the case. Gaye died in 1984 and Townsend died in 2003.

Sheeran, 32, spoke during opening arguments in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday. The trial is expected to last up to two weeks.

The defense, which did not cross-examine Sheeran, said he would take the stand again during the trial.

Townsend’s estate alleges that Sheeran, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Publishing borrowed from the soul classic “Let’s Get it On” in the creation of “Thinking Out Loud,” in violation of federal copyright law.

“The defendants copied the core of ‘Let’s’ and repeated it continuously throughout ‘Thinking,'” attorneys for Townsend’s heirs wrote in their complaint. “The melodic, harmonic and rhythmic compositions of ‘Thinking’ are not the product of independent creation.”

To make the plaintiffs’ point, Crump pointed to a 2014 stage performance in which Sheeran sang a live medley of both songs. Crump told jurors the moment, captured on video, amounted to a confession.

“We have a smoking gun,” Crump said of the mash-up video.

Crump added that Sheeran “acknowledges the magic” of Gaye’s song and claimed he “decided to capture some of that magic for his own benefit”.

Sheeran was called to the stand on Tuesday and defended his art in court, telling jurors he composed “Thinking Out Loud” independently with British songwriter Amy Wadge, who was not named in the trial.

Sheeran also said the 2014 concert mash-up only happened because most pop songs used a handful of similar chords.

“If I had done what you’re accusing me of doing, I’d be a fool to get on stage in front of 20,000 people and do this,” the musician said, adding that he’s done similar mash-ups with d other pop songs. “I believe most pop songs are built on building blocks that have been freely available for hundreds of years.”

Musician Ed Sheeran arrives in federal court in New York, U.S., Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Sheeran will have to convince a federal jury in New York that his 2014 hit song ‘Thinking Out Loud’ was not copied of Marvin Gaye’s classic soul groove “Let’s Get It On,” the latest trial in an increasingly contentious music industry. Photographer: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Stephanie Keith | Bloomberg | Getty Images

This isn’t the first time Sheeran has found himself in the crosshairs of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Last April, Sheeran spoke out about another of his hits, 2017’s “Shape of You.” A London judge in the case ruled in Sheeran’s favor and awarded him more than $1.1 million in costs legal.

“There are only a limited number of notes and very few chords used in pop music. A coincidence is inevitable if 60,000 songs hit Spotify every day,” Sheeran said at the time.

Released in September 2014, Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” became a critical and commercial success, winning Musician Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance at the 58th Grammy Awards.

He said he came up with the song after a grandfather died. The song is about finding love in old age, he told the court on Tuesday.

Sheeran could testify once more at trial.

If the jury finds the British singer-songwriter is liable for copyright infringement, the trial will enter a second phase to determine how much he will pay in damages.

Wadge, the co-writer of “Thinking Out Loud,” also plans to speak during the trial.

“If you don’t remember anything else about this trial, this case, it’s about giving credit where credit is due,” Crump told jurors during his opening statement on Tuesday.

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