British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was cleared by a U.S. court over allegations that he copied Marvin Gaye's 1973 song "Let's Get It On."
The heirs of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote the song with Gaye, alleged that Sheeran's 2014 hit "Thinking Out Loud" contains striking rhythmic pattern similarities with "Let's Get It On."
Sheeran's team wrote in its defense that both songs "share versions of a similar and unprotectable chord progression that was freely available to all songwriters."
The copyright infringement case was filed against Sheeran, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music Publishing in 2017.
The case generated so much attention not just because of the artists and the songs involved.
Music experts, including those in the academe, followed the case closely as they felt that the decision would have a significant effect on how copyright infringement cases in the future will be handled and decided.
A guilty verdict, many fear, would hinder the creativity of songwriters for fear of being sued simply because of chord patterns deemed similar to other songs.
During the course of the trial, Sheeran, armed with an acoustic guitar, played the song in the courtroom to show the chord progression and melody in question.
The 32-year-old singer-songwriter reportedly wanted to demonstrate how common the four-chord progression being questioned is used in music writing.
Sheeran's camp said that the song did not deliberately copy elements from "Let's Get It On" and that any similarities were coincidental.
"Their song was born from an emotional conversation. It was their original creation," Sheeran's lawyer, Ilene Farkas, stressed to the court.
Sheeran co-wrote the song with Amy Wadge.
"Thinking Out Loud" won Song of the Year at the 2016 Grammy Award.
NOT RETIRING FROM MUSIC
A relieved and elated Sheeran met with reporters after the verdict to share his thoughts about the high-profile case.
"I'm obviously very happy with the outcome of the case. And it looks like I'm not having to retire from my day job after all," Sheeran joked, pertaining to his earlier statement that he would retire if found guilty of violating copyright laws.
"But at the same time, I'm unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all."
The prosecution team, meanwhile, did not issue a statement following the ruling, saying instead, "God is good all the time, all the time God is good," as they walk past reporters.
SIMILAR COURT BATTLES
Sheeran is no stranger to copyright infringement cases, winning a legal battle in 2022 for his hit song, "Shape of You."
It was alleged that Sheeran plagiarized the 2015 song by Sami Chokri titled "Oh Why."
Meanwhile, the estate of Gaye sued and won against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, claiming the two copied Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" for their song "Blurred Lines."
Thicke and Pharrell were ordered by the court to pay $7 million to Gaye's estate.
Speaking about the court decision, Pharrell told the Financial Times in 2015, “The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else.
"This applies to fashion, music, design… anything. If we lose our freedom to be inspired we’re going to look up one day and the entertainment industry as we know it will be frozen in litigation."
Pharrell added, slamming the verdict, “There was no infringement. You can’t own feelings and you can’t own emotions … [In music] there are only the notations and the progression."