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Ed Sheeran says he “had to take a stand” against song-theft accusation

By | Published on Thursday 11 May 2023

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran has said that he felt that he “had to take a stand” against claims that he ripped off Marvin Gaye song ‘Let’s Get It On’ when he wrote his 2014 song ‘Thinking Out Loud’, even though doing so meant that he was forced to miss his grandmother’s funeral.

“I’m really glad it’s over, man”, he told Howard Stern on his Sirius XM show. Acknowledging the length of time it took for the case to get to trial, he went on: “It was eight years of that. This is my livelihood and the thing I’ve worked my entire life to do, and to have someone disbelieve it and to diminish it, I really felt like I had to take a stand”.

Highlighting his defence in the case against the estate of ‘Let’s Get It On’ co-writer Ed Townsend, he played a portion of a medley he also performed during the recent trial in the New York courts, running through other songs that used the same chord sequence that he was accused of stealing in the court case, including Rod Stewart’s ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’ and The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’.

“There were 101 songs [we found with that chord progression] and that was scratching the surface”, he explained. “Yes, it’s a chord sequence that you hear on successful songs, but if you say that a song in 1973 owns this, then what about all the songs that came before? We found songs from like the 1700s that had similar melodic stuff. And then there were huge songs in the 50s and huge songs in the 60s”.

“No one’s saying that songs shouldn’t be copyrighted”, he added. “But you just can’t copyright a chord sequence”.

In many cases such as this, artists often choose to settle out of court – as indeed Sheeran has himself in the past. Speaking about why an artist might decide not to let a song-theft case go to trial, he said: “Either way you lose, because you spend god knows what to win the case, and you don’t get that back – and if you lose the case, you lose”.

“Then there’s also the stain on your reputation”, he went on. “For the whole of your life there’s always a question mark. The headline of ‘Ed Sheeran stole this’, that doesn’t go away. So you have to take that risk of [going] really public with this, take it to court, and hope for the best, basically”.

During the trial, Sheeran told the court that if he lost he would quit songwriting altogether – something few believed, including the opposing side, who said as much in their closing statement. However, he insisted that he was serious, telling Stern: “I really honestly think I would have [quit] because it just takes the joy out of it if you can’t sit down and you can’t use a G chord to a C chord because someone did it in the 60s … it just sucks the fun out of it”.

He also spoke about the fact that taking the stand in the trial had led to him missing his grandmother’s funeral. Sheeran said that he had expected the trial to conclude with just enough time to travel to Ireland for the funeral, but that this had ultimately not been possible due to the Townsend side unexpectedly calling his manager to testify.

“It’s a shame”, he said. “I won’t get that time back. She was a great woman”.

It’s not yet clear if the Townsend estate will appeal the decision made in court last week – although appeal judges tend to be more cautious than juries in cases such as this, so it seems unlikely that the ruling would be overturned.

There is also another case currently going through the motions relating to the same specific claim that ‘Thinking Out Loud’ infringes ‘Let’s Get It On’, filed by an entity that has a share in the latter song’s copyright. It remains to be seen what impact last week’s judgement has on that case.

Watch Sheeran’s interview with Howard Stern here: