NEW YORK (AP) — A federal jury in New York found Thursday that British singer Ed Sheeran didn’t steal key elements of Marvin Gaye’s classic 1970s song “Let’s Get It On” when he premiered his hit song “Thinking Out Loud”.
As the jury answered the single question of whether Sheeran proved he hadn’t infringed copyright in the affirmative, the crooner briefly put his hands up to his raised face before standing up and to kiss his lawyer.
As the jurors left the courtroom, Sheeran quietly said “thank you” in their direction. He then spoke for about 10 minutes with the complainants, including the daughter of Ed Townsend, who co-created the 1973 soul classic with Gaye. They hugged and smiled.
Sheeran then addressed reporters outside the courthouse.
“I’m obviously very pleased with the outcome of this case, and it looks like I won’t have to retire from my day job after all. But at the same time, I am incredibly frustrated that baseless allegations like this are allowed to go to court,” the singer read in a prepared statement.
He also said he missed his grandmother’s funeral in Ireland because of the trial and he “will not make up that time”.
The verdict came after a two-week trial that included a courtroom performance by Sheeran as the singer insisted, at times angrily, that the trial was a threat to all musicians creating their own music.
Sheeran sat with his legal team throughout the trial, defending against the lawsuit filed by Townsend’s heirs. They said “Thinking Out Loud” had so many similarities to “Let’s Get It On” that it violated the song’s copyright protection.
Early in the trial, attorney Ben Crump told jurors on behalf of Townsend’s heirs that Sheeran himself sometimes performed the two songs together. The jury saw the video of a concert in Switzerland in which Sheeran can be heard linking on stage between “Let’s Get It On” and “Thinking Out Loud”. Crump said it was “smoke” evidence that he stole the famous song.
When Sheeran testified, he repeatedly took a guitar lying behind him on the witness stand to show how he seamlessly creates “mashups” of songs at concerts to “spice it up a bit” for his sizable crowds.
The English pop star’s cheerful demeanor on display during the questioning of his lawyer, Ilene Farkas, all but disappeared during cross-examination.
“When you write songs, somebody comes after you,” Sheeran said during his testimony, explaining that the matter was closely watched by others in the industry.
He insisted he didn’t steal anything from “Let’s Get it On” when he wrote his song.
Townsend’s heirs said in their lawsuit that “Thinking Out Loud” had “striking similarities” and “obvious common elements” that made it clear he had copied “Let’s Get It On,” a song that was featured in many movies and commercials and has scored hundreds of millions of streams and radio plays over the past half century.
Sheeran’s song, released in 2014, was a hit, winning a Grammy for song of the year. His attorneys argued that the songs shared versions of a similar, non-copyrightable chord progression freely available to all songwriters.
Gaye was killed in 1984 aged 44, shot by his father as he tried to intervene in a fight between his parents. He had been a Motown superstar since the 1960s, although his songs released in the 1970s made him a generational musical giant.
Townsend, who also wrote the 1958 R&B doo-wop hit “For Your Love,” was a singer, songwriter and lawyer who died in 2003. Kathryn Townsend Griffin, his daughter, testified during the trial that she believed that Sheeran was “a great artist”. with a great future.
She said she had hoped the lawsuit would not go to trial, “but I have to protect my father’s legacy.”