New York (CNN) Musician Ed Sheeran took the stand Tuesday in a copyright lawsuit over whether his hit single “Thinking Out Loud” copied a classic Marvin Gaye song.
Ben Crump, an attorney representing the family of the co-writer of Gaye’s 1973 hit “Let’s Get It On,” said in his opening statement that Sheeran played his ballad and Gaye’s song in a medley during a concert, calling the moment as “irrefutable proof”.
Musician Ed Sheeran arrives for his copyright infringement trial in Manhattan Federal Court on April 25, 2023 in New York City. Sheeran was sued for copyright infringement over his 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud.” He is accused of copying Marvin Gaye’s legendary R&B song “Let’s Get It On.” (Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Sheeran is accused of copying “Let’s Get It On” by the estate of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote the song with Gaye. Townsend’s daughter Kathryn Townsend Griffin, sister Helen McDonald and the estate of his ex-wife Cherrigale Townsend are the named plaintiffs in the “Thinking Out Loud” case. Gaye died in 1984 and Townsend died in 2003.
Sheeran was called to testify Tuesday by Townsend’s attorney, Keisha Rice. During his testimony, the musician said that the idea to create the melody was “probably mine.” He said that if he had, in fact, copied “Let’s Get It On”, then he “would have been an idiot to stand on stage in front of 20,000 people”.
Sheeran’s legal team declined to question the musician about Rice’s questions, saying they want to ask them their own questions as they make their case later.
Earlier in court proceedings on Tuesday, Crump tried to portray Sheeran as someone who recognized the “magic” of Gaye’s soul song and then used it to catapult his career. “Thinking Out Loud” would go on to win the 2016 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.
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“If you don’t remember anything else about this trial, about this case, it’s about giving credit where credit is due,” Crump told the jury, which was selected Monday.
Sheeran’s legal team argued that the sounds used in both songs are common in pop music. “Nobody owns the building blocks of music,” Ilene Farkas, Sheeran’s lawyer, told the jury in opening remarks.
Sheeran’s lawyer, Donald Zakarin, questioned Townsend Griffin on Tuesday afternoon. Zakarin said Sony sent reports from two musicologists to Townsend’s lawyer in 2015 that concluded there are no valid claims of copying because the song uses common chord progressions.
The lawyers asked if Townsend Griffin noticed that the chord progression in “Let’s Get It On” is used in other songs like “Heart and Soul” or “Earth Angel.” He said that he never analyzed a song until she heard “Thinking Out Loud.”
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“I don’t think my father is a thief,” Townsend Griffin said. He said he hired his own musicologists for his “personal clarity.”
In recent years there have been a number of major music copyright lawsuits.
Gaye’s family previously sued other artists for copyright infringement and won. The estate successfully sued singer Robin Thicke and producer Pharrell Williams for $7.4 million in 2015 for borrowing from Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” for their hit “Blurred Lines,” though the case became a lawsuit. five-year legal battle that ultimately saw the sentence reduced to $5.3 million. The ruling also awarded Gaye’s family 50% of the royalties from “Blurred Lines” going forward.
But other recent copyright cases had different results.
Taylor Swift encountered a similar case in 2017 for her smash hit “Shake It Off,” which was settled and dismissed last year. Led Zeppelin was sued in 2014 over their iconic track “Stairway to Heaven” by the estate of the late Randy California, former lead guitarist for the 1960s band Spirit, for copying part of their single “Taurus.” A 2020 appeals court ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin.
Sheeran, meanwhile, has faced previous legal battles over his music and won. In a 2022 case over his song “Shape of You,” a judge ruled in favor of the singer who did not copy grime artist Sami Switch’s song “Oh Why” after the musician accused Sheeran of plagiarizing a key part. He was also sued in 2016 over his single “Photograph,” which was settled out of court.
Following his successful 2022 legal battle, Sheeran posted a video on his Instagram expressing concern over the recent spate of music copyright cases.
“It’s really detrimental to the songwriting industry. There are so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. A coincidence is likely to happen if 60,000 songs are released every day on Spotify. It’s 22 million songs a year, and there’s only 12 notes available,” Sheeran said. “I am not an entity. I am not a corporation. I’m a human being. I am father. I am husband. I am son. Lawsuits are not a pleasant experience.”
The CNN Wire
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