Another Landmark Victory for Ed Sheeran in Copyright Infringement Case


Ed Sheeran is no stranger to copyright claims.

Only last year, he successfully fended off a copyright infringement claim brought against his song Shape Of You.

This time, Ed was required to appear in a Manhattan courtroom to defend allegations of copyright infringement against his Grammy award-winning song Thinking Out Loud.

The infringement claim was brought by the heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote 'Let's Get It On' with Marvin Gaye.

The heirs alleged that Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud copied harmonic progressions and melodic and rhythmic elements from Let's Get It On without permission.

Although this case is subject to US copyright law which differs from UK copyright law, it is a case that the global entertainment industry has closely watched, and we have therefore discussed some of the highlights of the case and the final decision below.

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Another Landmark Victory for Ed Sheeran in Copyright Infringement Case

Highlights of the Case

In response to the infringement claim, Ilene Farkas, Sheeran's attorney, argued that any elements of Thinking Out Loud" bearing a resemblance to Let's Get It On were not subject to copyright protection because those elements are basic "building blocks" of music regularly used by artists everywhere.

As such, she argued that they were not subject to protections against infringement under relevant US law.

In response, Keisha Rice, representing the heirs of Ed Townsend, contended her clients had not claimed to own the basic musical elements but rather "the way in which these common elements were uniquely combined" and presented a video which described as a "smoking gun" showing Mr Sheeran move seamlessly between Thinking Out Loud and Let's Get It On at a live show. 

Mr Sheeran responded by testifying that he frequently performs such medleys in concerts which are made possible by the limited harmonic palette of mainstream pop music.

At one point, Mr Sheeran even broke out his guitar to rebut testimony provided by an expert musicologist acting for the heirs of Ed Townsend.

In closing arguments, Mr Sheeran's attorney said that her client had created Thinking Out Loud independently and attacked the plaintiffs' case as one "that should have never been brought".

Ms Farkas also told the jury that if the plaintiffs succeed, it could have a devastating impact on future musicians because it would remove "an essential element of every songwriter's tool kit and creativity would be stifled for fear of being sued".

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Highlights of the Case

Decision and Comments

After almost two weeks of court hearings, the Manhattan jury ruled unanimously that the British superstar was not liable for copyright infringement.

In his statement after winning the trial, Sheeran said that he was "unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all" and that "the chords used to create his song 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".

The music industry was eagerly awaiting the outcome of this case as infringement claims of this nature have continued to rise over the past ten years.

Such claims have involved questions of how much or how little of the work of songwriters can be protected by copyright and how vulnerable they are to legal challenges. 

Although this decision was not decided per UK copyright law, it demonstrates that such infringement cases have become part and parcel of life as an artist and demonstrates the importance of obtaining adequate legal representation to defend against such claims.

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Decision and Comments

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