Pop singer Ed Sheeran strongly defended himself Tuesday against accusations that his hit ballad Thinking out loud ripped to the tune of the classic Marvin Gaye song Let’s move on.
Sheeran appeared in a New York court this week as part of a lawsuit filed in 2017 by the heirs of a Let’s move on co-writer, Ed Townsend, who created the soulful song with Gaye. The lawsuit claims Sheeran, 32, and his own co-writer Amy Wadge knowingly plagiarized the song’s iconic four-chord sequence.
Sheeran has maintained that he created the song. Thinking out loud himself with Wudge and did not infringe copyright. He said that the romantic song was inspired by the love of his grandparents.
During the singer’s testimony, the attorney for Townsend’s heir questioned Sheeran about video of a live mix performance in which he sang so much Thinking out loud and Let’s move on in concert. Earlier in the day, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the Townsend estate, said the mix-up could be seen as “an admission” of plagiarism.
“We have a smoking gun,” he told the jury as they watched a recording of the performance.
Sheeran strongly denied this, saying that it’s “very simple to weave in and out of songs” if they’re in the same key. Both Thinking out loud and Let’s move on They are in the key of D major.
“I would be an idiot to stand on a stage in front of 20,000 people and do that,” Sheeran said of the blatant plagiarism.
Prevented from speaking during crossover testimony, Sheeran quipped, “I feel like you don’t want me to answer because you know what I’m going to say will actually make a lot of sense.”
Sheeran testified that he regularly performs mash-ups at concerts.
“Most pop songs can fit with most pop songs,” he said, comparing Beatles songs Let it be and Bob Marley’s No woman No Cry.
Crump told the jury that this civil suit is about “giving credit where credit is due.”
Sheeran’s attorney, Ilene S. Farkas, said the lawsuit is unwarranted.
“The two songs share versions of a similar, unprotectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters,” Farkas said. “Nobody owns basic musical building blocks.”
Let’s move on It has been heard in countless movies and commercials and has garnered hundreds of millions of streams, spins, and radio plays since it came out in 1973. Thinking out loud won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 2016.
Townsend, who also wrote the 1958 R&B doo-wop hit For your loveShe was a singer, songwriter and lawyer. She died in 2003. Her daughter, Kathryn Townsend Griffin, is leading the lawsuit.
“I think Mr. Sheeran is a great artist with a great future,” he said in his testimony, adding that he did not want to get to this point. “But I have to protect my father’s legacy.”
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks. Sheeran also faces two additional demands brought about by the Townsend estate, though they are currently on hold.
In April 2022, Sheeran won a similar copyright lawsuit about his greatest success, shape of you A judge ruled that Sheeran had not plagiarized the work of another British artist, Sami Chokri, who accused him of stealing the melody for his 2015 song, Oh!, why.
At the time, Sheeran called the lawsuit “really damaging to the songwriting industry.”
Sheeran argued that “it has become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking it to court, even if there is no basis for the claim.”
“There are a limited number of notes and very few chords used in pop music – a match is likely to happen if 60,000 songs are released every day on Spotify,” he said. “That’s 22 million songs a year, and there are only 12 notes available.”
In 2017, Sheeran settled out of court over claims that his song Photography shared striking similarities to Matt Cardle’s song Amazing. He has since said he regrets the settlement because it opened the “floodgates” for more bogus copyright claims.
— With archives from The Associated Press
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