NEW YORK — A federal jury in New York concluded Thursday that British singer Ed Sheeran didn’t steal key components of Marvin Gaye’s classic 1970s tune “Let’s Get It On” when he created his hit song “Thinking Out Loud,” prompting Sheeran to joke later that he won’t have to follow through on his threat to quit music.
The emotions of an epic copyright fight that stretched across most of the last decade spilled out as soon as the seven-person jury revealed its verdict after more than two hours of deliberations.
Sheeran briefly dropped his face into his hands in relief before standing to hug his attorney, Ilene Farkas. As jurors left the courtroom, Sheeran smiled at several of them and mouthed the words: “Thank you.”
He then spoke for about 10 minutes with plaintiff Kathryn Townsend Griffin, the daughter of Ed Townsend, who co-created the 1973 soul classic with Gaye. They hugged and smiled with each other.
Sheeran later addressed reporters outside the courthouse, revisiting his claim made during the trial that he would consider quitting songwriting if he lost the case.
“I am obviously very happy with the outcome of this case, and it looks like I’m not going to have to retire from my day job, after all. But at the same time, I am unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all,” the singer said, reading from a prepared statement.
He also said he missed his grandmother’s funeral in Ireland because of the trial, and that he “won’t get that time back.”
Before leaving the courthouse, Griffin waited in a hallway with her lawyers, saying she was relieved the trial was over.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” she said. “We can be friends.”
She said she was pleased that Sheeran approached her immediately after the verdict and the two conversed at length.
“It showed me who he was,” Griffin said.
She said her copyright lawsuit wasn’t personal.
“I did what I had to do to protect my father’s intellectual property. I’m very proud of my father and his work and me doing what I have to do,” Griffin added.
The verdict came after a two-week trial that featured a courtroom performance by Sheeran as the singer insisted, sometimes angrily, that the trial was a threat to all musicians who create their own music.
Sheeran sat with his legal team throughout the trial, defending himself against the lawsuit by Townsend’s heirs. They said “Thinking Out Loud” had so many similarities to “Let’s Get It On” that it violated the song’s copyright protection.
At the trial’s start, attorney Ben Crump told jurors on behalf of the Townsend heirs that Sheeran himself sometimes performed the two songs together. The jury saw video of a concert in Switzerland in which Sheeran can be heard segueing on stage between “Let’s Get It On” and “Thinking Out Loud.” Crump said that was “smoking gun” proof he stole from the famous tune.
In her closing argument on Wednesday, Farkas said Crump’s “smoking gun was shooting blanks.”
She said the only common elements between the two songs were “basic to the tool kit of all songwriters” and “the scaffolding on which all songwriting is built.”
“They did not copy it. Not consciously. Not unconsciously. Not at all,” Farkas said.
When Sheeran testified over two days for the defense, he repeatedly picked up a guitar resting behind him on the witness stand to demonstrate how he seamlessly creates “mashups” of songs during concerts to “spice it up a bit” for his sizeable crowds.
The English pop star’s cheerful attitude on display under questioning from his attorney all but vanished under cross examination.
“When you write songs, somebody comes after you,” Sheeran said during his testimony as he explained that the case was being closely watched by others in the industry.
He insisted that he stole nothing from “Let’s Get it On” when he wrote his tune.
Townsend’s heirs said in their lawsuit that “Thinking Out Loud” had “striking similarities” and “overt common elements” that made it obvious that it had copied “Let’s Get It On,” a song that has been featured in numerous films and commercials and scored hundreds of millions of streams spins and radio plays in the past half century.
Sheeran’s song, which came out in 2014, was a hit, winning a Grammy for song of the year.
Sheeran’s label, Atlantic Records, and Sony/ATV Music Publishing were also named as defendants in the “Thinking Out Loud” lawsuit, but the focus of the trial was Sheeran.
His co-writer on the song, Amy Wadge, who was not a defendant, testified on his behalf and hugged Sheeran after the verdict.
Gaye was killed in 1984 at age 44, shot by his father as he tried to intervene in a fight between his parents. He had been a Motown superstar since the 1960s, although his songs released in the 1970s made him a generational musical giant.
Townsend, who also wrote the 1958 R&B doo-wop hit “For Your Love,” was a singer, songwriter and lawyer who died in 2003. Griffin, his daughter, testified during the trial that she thought Sheeran was “a great artist with a great future.”