Ed Sheeran Did Not Plagiarize Marvin Gaye for "Thinking Out Loud," Jury Rules

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished May 4, 2023

Ed Sheeran has emerged victorious from a legal battle in which it was alleged he lifted elements of a classic Marvin Gaye song in penning his own 2014 tune "Thinking Out Loud."

Today, a Manhattan jury concluded that the British singer-songwriter did not plagiarize compositional components of Gaye's catalogue staple "Let's Get It On" when he co-wrote "Thinking Out Loud," the third single from his 2014 album x.

The decision came after a two-week trial that saw Sheeran strum his guitar on the stand to demonstrate chord progressions and fry a musicologist for his "criminal" testimony, while co-writer Amy Wadge recalled the two thinking (out loud, no less) that their creation was more in the vein of Van Morrison than Gaye. Sheeran even testified his career in music would be "done" if the jury found him liable for plagiarism.

The lawsuit against Sheeran involved the estate and heirs of late producer Ed Townsend, who co-wrote "Let's Get It On" with Gaye. In their preliminary 2016 filing, Townsend's camp alleged that "the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic compositions of 'Thinking' are substantially and/or strikingly similar to the drum composition of 'Let's [Get It On].'"

After the case was dismissed without prejudice in 2017, Sheeran was sued on similar grounds of alleged copyright infringement by Structured Asset Sales, the company holding one-third of the copyright ownership to "Let's Get It On."

Following today's decision, Sheeran read a statement outside the courtroom, saying in part [via Deadline]:

We spent the past eight years talking about two songs with dramatically different lyrics, melodies and four chords which are also different and used by songwriters every day all over the world. These chords are common building blocks which were used to create music long before "Let's Get It On" was written and will be used to make music long after we are all gone. They are in a songwriter's alphabet, our toolkit, and should be there for all of us to use. No one owns them or the way they are played, in the same way nobody owns the colour blue.

"Thinking Out Loud" won Sheeran Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. An argument crucial to Sheeran's defence was that the particular chord progression of "Thinking Out Loud" has long been available for songwriters to use.

It's one the songwriter will make in a forthcoming sit-down interview on CBS Sunday Morning next week (May 7). Sheeran expresses in a teaser, seen below, "Every single musician you speak to will agree with me. Every single one. You can only get [found] out if you do something wrong, and I have not done something wrong. I'm not lying here. I used four chords that are very common chords to use, and they sound like lots of songs. It just riles me up, man."

With the latest round of legal drama behind him, Sheeran will surely be much less stressed in launching his new Aaron Dessner-produced album tomorrow, and kicking off his "Mathematics Tour" of North America on the weekend.

Latest Coverage