Ed Sheeran on copyright infringement lawsuit: ‘Comes with the territory’

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Defending copyright infringement lawsuits has become as much a part of the job description for top musicians as the performance of hits is, Ed Sheeran has said in a new interview.

“I just think it comes with the territory,” the British singer-songwriter told CBS News in an interview airing Sunday morning, two days after a jury in New York ruled in his favor in a case that saw him accused of ripping off Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. “When they say there’s a hit, there’s a writ – it’s true. Every single hit.”

In the interview with Seth Doane, Sheeran echoed some of the arguments that he and his attorneys used to successfully defend the integrity of his hit Thinking Out Loud and score what is considered a major legal victory for recording artists.

“There’s four chords that get used in pop songs, and there’s however many notes – eight notes or whatever – and there’s 60,000 songs released every single day,” Sheeran told Doane. “And if you just think mathematically the likelihood of this song having the same chords as this song … you are going to get this with every single pop song from now on – like, unless it just stops, which I don’t think it does because it’s a big money business to take things to court.”

Sheeran added: “You can only get caught out if you’ve done something wrong. And … I have not done something wrong. I’m not lying here. I used … chords that are very common … to use, and they sound like lots of songs.”

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The heirs of Gaye’s co-writer Ed Townsend had previously sued Sheeran, his record label Warner Music Group and his music publisher Sony Music Publishing, alleging that Thinking Out Loud infringed on Let’s Get It On’s copyright. Townsend’s daughter, Kathryn Townsend Griffin, said the lawsuit aimed to protect her “father’s legacy” while also demanding $100m in damages.

Sheeran and his co-writer Amy Wadge both denied copying Let’s Get It On as they testified during a trial which began in late April. Sheeran said he only knew the Gaye classic in passing and testified that Thinking Out Loud’s inspiration was the Irish musician Van Morrison.

Meanwhile, his lawyer, Ilene Farkas, said similarities in the chord progressions and rhythms between Let’s Get It On and Thinking Out Loud were “basic musical building blocks that songwriters now and forever must be free to use”.

An attorney for the Townsend heirs, Keisha Rice, countered with the accusation that Sheeran’s hit copied the way Let’s Get It On “uniquely combined” basic musical elements. She asked jurors to not be “overwhelmed” by the popularity attained by Sheeran, a four-time Grammy winner who has sold more than 150m records and is one of the bestselling artists ever.

Jurors had deliberated for just about three hours when they returned their verdict finding Sheeran not liable in the case.

The legal triumph for Sheeran came after winning a separate copyright trial in London last year over his hit Shape of You. And it came after Gaye’s heirs in 2015 won a judgment of $5.3m from a lawsuit asserting that the Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’s song Blurred Lines ripped off Gaye’s Got to Give It Up.

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Sheeran’s fifth studio album, Subtract, came out on Friday. In the interview which was set to air on CBS at 9am ET as well as stream online on Paramount+, Sheeran said to Doane that the collection of songs about anxiety, depression and other personal topics reflected his comfort with who he has become as an artist.

“I know who I am and what I do,” Sheeran said. “The artist who can stand on stage in front of 110,000 people [at a concert] is not the same person that has anxiety and insecurity and depression.”