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Judge in Ed Sheeran song-theft case declines to ban mash-up video from trial

By | Published on Tuesday 14 March 2023

Ed Sheeran

The US judge overseeing the latest Ed Sheeran song-theft legal battle has declined to ban the plaintiffs in the case from showing a YouTube video in which the musician himself mashes together his song with the one he’s accused of ripping off. Though Sheeran’s lawyers are still free to object again to that video being shown to jurors when the dispute is properly in court.

This is the legal battle where Sheeran is accused of ripping off Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ on his 2014 track ‘Thinking Out Loud’. He’s being sued by the estate of the earlier song’s co-writer Ed Townsend and the dispute is due to get to trial next month.

The YouTube clip in question is of Sheeran playing ‘Thinking Out Loud’ at a concert in 2014 and inserting a bit of Gaye’s song into the middle of the performance. Legal reps on the Townsend side want to show the video in court, reckoning it illustrates both the similarities between the two songs, and Sheeran’s awareness of them.

However, Sheeran’s lawyers argue, neither the similarities nor their client’s awareness of them mean that Sheeran deliberately copied ‘Let’s Get It On’, nor that the songs are sufficiently similar to constitute copyright infringement. Yet showing the video in court, they reckon, could imply both of those things to jurors.

To that end, the Sheeran side submitted a filing with the court last month seeking to have the judge rule that the video cannot be shown at next month’s trial.

They stated that “there are dozens if not hundreds of songs that pre-date and post-date ‘Let’s Get It On’ utilising the same or similar chord progression. These medleys are irrelevant to any issue in the case and would be misleading [and] confuse the jury”.

The lawyers also argued that allowing the video to be shown in court could have a wider impact on the music industry, discouraging artists from performing fun medleys of this kind at their shows.

Unsurprisingly, legal reps for the Townsend estate hit back arguing that the video of Sheeran’s on-stage mash-up provided “helpful guidance” to highlight and illustrate the similarities between the two songs and “why they are significant”. In fact, they went on in their own legal filing, the video is “among the most important and critical evidence in the case”.

In a ruling on the matter last week, according to Billboard, judge Louis Stanton formally denied the request to ban the video from the courtroom, although he specifically said that the Sheeran side can restate their case for excluding the clip during the trial itself.

And he did side with Sheeran’s team on a proposal from the Townsend side that a live rendition of ‘Let’s Get It On’ be performed in court. Sheeran’s lawyers said that such a performance could be designed to “intentionally misrepresent” the song and could, therefore, be grounds for a mistrial.

Stanton basically agreed that the unpredictable nature of a live performance meant that such a performance would be “unreliable and inadmissible as evidence”.

The Ed v Ed trial is currently due to get underway on 24 Apr.