Ed Sheeran Wins Copyright Lawsuit

British singer Ed Sheeran arrives for the premiere of the Disney+ music docu-series

Ed Sheeran wasn’t kidding when he said he’d put his career on pause if he lost a copyright lawsuit that accused him of using elements of the 1973 Marvin Gaye hit “Let’s Get It On” in his 2015 hit “Thinking Out Loud” without permission. Before a jury ruled in his favor, Sheeran — who vehemently denied the accusations — threatened he would leave the music industry if he lost. People reported that, when his attorney questioned him on the stand about the toll the trial was taking on May 2, Sheeran replied: “If that happens, I’m done, I’m stopping.” He added, “I find it really insulting to devote my whole life to being a performer and a songwriter and have someone diminish it.”

In a May 5 interview on SiriusXM’s “The Morning Mash Up,” he explained that while he wouldn’t have stopped performing, he was dead serious about putting down his songwriting pen. “You know, people didn’t believe me when I said that, but it really would’ve taken the joy out of writing songs,” he said. “I never said I would stop being a musician and performer, but I would’ve stopped writing songs for a while and probably just sung covers, or have another writer write it or something . . . For me, being creative is going into the studio, [putting] my heart on my sleeve, and releasing a song, and it just would’ve taken the joy out of that.”

It’s been a major week for the artist, who released his searingly honest Disney+ documentary called “Ed Sheeran: The Sum Of It All” on May 3 and followed that up with the release of his latest album, “Subtract,” on May 5. In the midst of it all, on May 4, per ABC News, a jury ruled in Sheeran’s favor, vindicating him from accusations of plagiarism. He was being sued by the heirs of Ed Townsend, the co-writer who penned the hit, and while the lawsuit was filed back in 2017, it took six years for it to reach a Manhattan federal court.

This trial isn’t the first time Sheeran has been taken to court over copyright issues. In 2022, he was sued by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue, who accused Sheeran of copying elements of their song, “Oh Why,” in the 2017 chart-topper, “Shape Of You.” The judge ruled in Sheeran’s favor, stating that Sheeran had “neither deliberately nor subconsciously” copied from the song, as reported by The Guardian.

The dad of two has spoken about the impact lawsuits have had on his life, especially at a time when he was struggling to cope mentally. “Within the space of a month, my pregnant wife got told she had a tumor, with no route for treatment until after the birth. My best friend Jamal, a brother to me, died suddenly, and I found myself in court defending my integrity and career as a songwriter,” Sheeran said on Instagram about writing his latest album.

What Was the Ed Sheeran Lawsuit?

Sheeran was being sued by the heirs of Townsend, writer of Gaye’s hit song, “Let’s Get It On.” They accused him of copying “harmonic progressions” and “melodic and rhythmic elements.” Essentially, the court had to decide whether the building blocks of the song had been duplicated on Sheeran’s ballad.

Sheeran denied the claims resolutely and argued that the song uses common constructions which can be found in many pop songs. To illustrate his point, Sheeran played the basic chord progression of “Thinking Out Loud” while on the witness stand on April 27. The plaintiff’s lawyer then unveiled what was described as a “smoking gun” moment, by showing a video of Sheeran performing a mashup of the two songs at a concert in Zurich to highlight the similarities.

“I mash up songs at lots of gigs. Many songs have similar chords. You can go from ‘Let It Be’ to ‘No Woman No Cry’ and switch back,” Sheeran said in court. “And quite frankly, if I’d 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.”