British pop phenom Ed Sheeran expressed joy and relief Thursday after a US jury found he did not plagiarize Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” in composing his hit “Thinking Out Loud,” calling the ruling a win for creative freedom.
The English musician hugged his team inside a Manhattan federal courtroom after jurors ruled that he had “independently” created his 2014 song.
Outside, he told reporters he was “very happy” but “unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this” even make it to trial.
The civil lawsuit was filed by heirs of Gaye co-writer Ed Townsend, who alleged that harmonic progressions and rhythmic elements of Sheeran’s song were lifted without permission from the classic made famous by Gaye.
The heirs sought a share of the profits from Sheeran’s hit.
“If the jury had decided this matter the other way, we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters,” Sheeran told reporters.
“It is devastating and also insulting to be accused of stealing other people’s songs when we put so much into our livelihoods,” he added. “I am just a guy with a guitar who loves writing music for people to enjoy.”
“I am not and will never allow myself to be a piggy bank for anyone to shake.”
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– ‘Songwriter’s alphabet’ –
The jurors spent some three hours deliberating whether Sheeran’s song and Gaye’s classic are substantially similar and if their common elements are protected by copyright law.
Sheeran spent days testifying with guitar in hand, playing demos for the court to prove the 1-3-4-5 chord progression in question is a basic building block of pop music that can’t be owned.
The 32-year-old said he writes most of his songs in a day, and said he co-wrote “Thinking Out Loud” with singer-songwriter Amy Wadge, a regular creative collaborator.
A musicologist retained by the defense told the court the four-chord sequence was used in a number of songs before Gaye’s hit came out in 1973.
“These chords are common building blocks,” Sheeran said Thursday. “They are a songwriter’s ‘alphabet’, our tool kit.”
“No one owns them, or the way they are played, in the same way nobody owns the color blue.”
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Plaintiff Kathryn Townsend Griffin left court and breezed by reporters smoking what appeared to be a cigarillo, saying only: “God is good all the time, all the time God is good.”