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ABC News
Angelica Silva with wires

Ed Sheeran is being sued over allegations he ripped off Marvin Gaye's hit song, Let's Get It On. Here's what we know

Ed Sheeran took to the witness stand to deny allegations that his hit song ripped off a soul classic by Marvin Gaye. (AP Photo: Brittainy Newman)

British singer Ed Sheeran has appeared in a New York City court to deny allegations that his hit song, Thinking Out Loud, copied Marvin Gaye’s song, Let’s Get It On.

It's not the first time Sheeran has faced trial for a copyright issue. 

Here's what's happening with Sheeran's current trial and how his team have defended him so far. 

What is Ed Sheeran being sued for?

Sheeran was called to testify in the civil trial by the heirs of Ed Townsend, Gaye's co-writer on the 1973 soul classic.

Townsend was a singer, songwriter and lawyer. He died in 2003.

His heirs are alleging Sheeran's 2014 hit Thinking Out Loud has "striking similarities" to Let's Get It On and "overt common elements".

Sheeran’s attorneys have said the songs’ undeniable structural symmetry points only to the foundations of popular music.

“The two songs share versions of a similar and unprotectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters,” Sheeran's lawyers said in a court filing.

This lawsuit was filed in 2017 and has only now made it to trial.

It's expected to last up to two weeks. 

Who's involved?

Sheeran himself testified on April 26. 

Townsend's daughter, Kathryn Townsend Griffin, is the plaintiff leading the lawsuit.

“I think Mr Sheeran is a great artist with a great future,” Ms Griffin said.

“I didn’t want it to come to this, but I have to protect my father’s legacy.”

Kathryn Townsend Griffin speaks outside of court before the start of the trial against Ed Sheeran. (AP Photo: Seth Wenig)

What will the jury have to consider?

While the jury will hear the recordings of both songs, their lyrics will be legally insignificant.


Because jurors are supposed to only consider the raw elements of melody, harmony and rhythm that make up the composition of Let's Get It On.

There's a video of Sheeran mashing his and Gaye's songs — what's that about?

Lawyers for Townsend's heirs kicked things off with a video of Sheeran on stage. 

That video showed him performing a medley of his song, Thinking Out Loud, and Gaye's Let's Get it On in 2014. 

The aim of the video was to bolster their allegation that Sheeran, his label Warner Music Group and music publisher Sony Music Publishing owe them a share of the profits for allegedly copying the song.

One lawyer for the heirs, Ben Crump, had told jurors that the merging of the two songs was tantamount to “a confession”.

“We have a smoking gun,” he said of the concert footage showing Sheeran flipping between the two songs.

Crump said the case was about “giving credit where credit is due”.

What was Sheeran's defence?

While testifying, Sheeran was adamant that he had come up with Thinking Out Loud himself.

He explained it was common practice for musicians to weave other artists’ songs into their live shows.

Sheeran said many pop songs use the same three or four chords, and that he performs "mash-ups" of many songs at his concerts.

"You could go from Let it Be to No Woman, No Cry and switch back," Sheeran testified, referring to the Beatles and Bob Marley classics.

"If I had done what you're accusing me of doing, I'd be a quite an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20,000 people and do that."

Ed Sheeran arrives at Manhattan Federal Court for his trial in New York City. (Reuters: Eduardo Munoz)

At one point in the trial, Sheeran grew frustrated when a lawyer for the plaintiffs cut off his response about the medley.

"I feel like you don't want me to answer because you know that what I'm going to say is actually going to make quite a lot of sense," he said.

Sheeran looked on as his lawyer, Ilene Farkas, insisted that Sheeran and a co-writer, Amy Wadge, wrote their song independently, and did not steal from Townsend and Gaye.

She said they “created this heartfelt song without copying Let’s Get It On”.

What happens next?

Sheeran is expected to testify again later in the trial as part of the defence case.

If the jury finds Sheeran liable for copyright infringement, the trial will enter a second phase to determine how much he and his labels owe in damages.

The first trial is expected to last about a week.

Let’s Get It On has been heard in countless films and commercials, and has garnered hundreds of millions of streams, spins and radio plays since it came out in 1973.

As for Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud, it won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 2016.

Not the first copyright trial Sheeran has faced

In 2017, Ed Sheeran won a copyright lawsuit over his 2017 hit, Shape Of You.

Sheeran and his co-writers — Snow Patrol's John McDaid and producer Steven McCutcheon — denied allegations that the song copied part of 2015's Oh Why by Sami Chokri, who performs under the name Sami Switch.

"Whilst we're obviously happy with the result, I feel like claims like this are way too common now," Sheeran said in a video posted on Twitter.

"It's become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking them to court, even if there's no basis for the claim," he said. 

"It's really damaging to the songwriting industry."

Marvin Gaye's family involved in another high-profile copyright case

In 2015, a US jury ordered pop stars Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay more than $US7 million in damages to the family of Marvin Gaye, ruling the pair copied his music in writing their 2013 song Blurred Lines.

The eight-member California panel found the pop stars had lifted parts of Gaye's 1977 hit, Got to Give It Up.

Gaye's daughter, Nona, called the verdict a "miracle", adding that the family took legal action "because [Marvin Gaye] can't do it for himself".

Neither Williams nor Thicke, who had both testified during the trial, were in court to hear the verdict.

Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were ordered to pay damages to the family of Marvin Gaye. (Reuters: Rick Wilking)

ABC with wires

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