British pop phenom Ed Sheeran did not plagiarize Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” when composing his 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud,” a US jury ruled Thursday.
Sheeran stood up and hugged his team after jurors ruled that he “independently” created his song, according to an AFP reporter inside the Manhattan federal courtroom.
The lawsuit was filed by the heirs of Gaye co-writer Ed Townsend, who alleged that harmonic progressions and rhythmic elements of Sheeran’s song were lifted from the classic made famous by Gaye without permission.
The heirs sought a share of the profits from Sheeran’s song.
Sheeran, 32, played a number of songs from the witness stand as he gave evidence in the civil trial.
The English musician testified that he writes most of his songs in a day, and noted that he cowrote “Thinking Out Loud” with singer-songwriter Amy Wadge, a regular partner.
The two wrote “Thinking Out Loud” at Sheeran’s home in February 2014, he said.
“We sat guitar to guitar,” Sheeran said, according to US media. “We wrote together quite a lot.”
The jurors were tasked with deciding if Sheeran’s song and Gaye’s classic are substantially similar and if their common elements are protected by copyright law.
Townsend’s family had pointed out that the group Boyz II Men has performed mash-ups of the two songs, and that Sheeran has blended the songs together on stage as well.
Sheeran’s team contested the allegations, saying “there are dozens if not hundreds of songs that predate and postdate” Gaye’s song, “utilizing the same or similar chord progression.”
A musicologist retained by the defense says in court documents that the four-chord sequence was used in a number of songs before Gaye’s hit came out in 1973.
Industry members closely followed the copyright lawsuit as it could have set precedent for protections on songwriters’ creations and open the door to legal challenges elsewhere.
It was the second trial in a year for Sheeran, who successfully testified at a London court last April in a case centered around his song “Shape Of You,” saying that lawsuit was emblematic of copyright litigation going too far. The judge ruled in his favor.
Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” shot up America’s Billboard Hot 100 charts when it was released, and won Sheeran a Song of the Year prize at the Grammys in 2016.
There have been a flood of such copyright trials in recent years, notably in 2016 when Gaye’s family – who is not part of the New York lawsuit against Sheeran – successfully sued the artists Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. over similarities between the song “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.”