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Ed Sheeran calls musicologist’s actions “criminal” in Thinking Out Loud song-theft trial

By | Published on Wednesday 3 May 2023

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran had some harsh words to say about a musicologist who presented expert testimony at the ‘Thinking Out Loud’ song-theft trial last week. “I think what he is doing is criminal”, the musician declared in court earlier this week, adding: “I don’t know why he’s allowed to be an expert”.

Musicologist Alexander Stewart was testifying for the estate of the late Ed Townsend, which accuses Sheeran of ripping off the Marvin Gaye song ‘Let’s Get It On’ when he wrote ‘Thinking Out Loud’ back in 2014. Townsend co-wrote the Gaye classic.

It was Stewart’s job to prove to the jury that ‘Let’s Get It On’ and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ are sufficiently similar to constitute copyright infringement. The Sheeran side then have their own expert on hand who will bring up thirteen other songs that use the same chord progression that is shared by the Gaye and Sheeran works, all of which were recorded before ‘Let’s Get It On’.

When testifying last week, Stewart played the court a computer generated version of the Gaye song to illustrate the similarities with ‘Thinking Out Loud’. But this week – with his guitar to hand once again – Sheeran said the musicologist had misrepresented his song to confuse the jury.

Ramping up the drama elsewhere in his latest testimony, Sheeran threatened to quit his music career if he loses this copyright case.

Asked by his own lawyer how losing the case would impact on him as an artist, he told the court: “If that happens, I’m done, I’m stopping. I find it really insulting to devote my whole life to being a performer and a songwriter and have someone diminish it”.

Sheeran did prevail in court last year, of course, when facing a song-theft claim on this side of the Atlantic. And US judges have generally been cautious of late when it comes to granting commonly used musical segments copyright protection in isolation, which is what cases like this usually boil down to.

However, with juries initially ruling on copyright infringement cases in the US, it’s still hard to predict how this particular legal battle will play out.