NEW YORK— A jury found English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran not guilty of copyright infringement in a Lower Manhattan courthouse on Thursday, May 4. The lawsuit, filed back in 2017, accused Sheeran’s Grammy-award winning song “Thinking Out Loud” of plagiarizing the Marvin Gaye classic “Let’s Get It On.” 

The lawsuit was originally brought about by the co-owners of the Ed Townsend Estate: Structured Asset Sales (SAS) and family members of Townsend. Townsend and Gaye wrote “Let’s Get It On” back in 1973 together. The plaintiffs claimed that Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud – co-written with Amy Wadge in 2014 – copied a chord progression, rhythm and certain melodies of “Let’s Get It On” without permission. 

Sheeran – represented by lawyer Ilene S Farkas – maintained that the melodies are not the same and the four chord progression used is not unique, but is actually part of “basic musical building blocks” that “no one owns” and are used universally in pop music. 

In his opening statement, Ben Crump – the plaintiffs lawyer (and the civil rights lawyer in the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor cases) – played a fan video of Sheeran performing a “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On” mashup at a European concert, to argue that this was the performers “confession” of plagiarism. 

Most pop songs can fit over most pop songs … You could go from Let it Be to No Woman, No Cry and switch back,” Sheeran said in defense of the mashup. “If I had done what you’re accusing me of doing, I’d be quite an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20,000 people and do that.”

Sheeran testified that he and Wadge composed their hit song in a collaborative writing session which was inspired by the love each witnessed between their grandparents. “It’s devastating to be accused of stealing someone else’s song, when we put so much work into our livelihoods,” Sheeran later said. 

The pop musician went as far as to play an acoustic guitar on the stand, to display that at the core of the two songs is a chord progression that, while similar, is not “identical.” 

The jurors deliberated for three hours and concluded that Sheeran and Wadge composed the song independently. 

While happy about the verdict, Sheeran expressed frustration with the “baseless” trial that had him miss his grandmother’s funeral in Ireland:

“We’ve spent the last eight years talking about two songs with dramatically different lyrics, melodies and four chords, which are also different and are used by songwriters every day, all over the world…If the jury had decided this matter the other way, we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters,” Sheeran said. “I am not and will never allow myself to be a piggy bank for anyone to shake.”

Music and culture journalist, Naima Cochrane, expressed that it would have set a “DISASTROUS precedent” if it went the other way. “It [was] a blatant check chase (not even based on original composition) that would have opened the door to asset companies like [SAS] tracking down copyrights just to file suits on hit songs.”

This is not the first time Sheeran has been accused of plagiarism. Back in 2017, he settled out of court for his song “Photograph.” Sheeran reportedly later regretted that action as he believed it opened the “floodgates” to future accusations. In 2022, another artist sued him over his song “Shape of You,” but Sheeran won. 

This is also not the first time the Townsend estate heirs have sued artists for copyright. The estate successfully sued singer Robin Thicke and producer Pharrell Williams, citing similar pretenses about their “Blurred Lines” hit and Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” After a five-year battle, the Townsend heirs received $5.3 million and 50% of the song’s royalties moving forward.

Sheeran’s new album is set to release Friday, May 5.