In a packed New York courtroom, Ed Sheeran picked up his guitar Thursday and blasted a tune he had Locked in copyright dispute On the soul of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Let’s Get it On” as the only audience that matters – the jury.
Sheeran took an hour to testify in Manhattan federal court when his attorney, Eileen Farkas, pressed him to say how he came to write Thinking Out Loud a decade earlier.
He reached out, grabbed his guitar from a rack behind the witness stand and explained that writing a song for it was second nature to him. He said he used his own version of the phonemes to create the songs so quickly that he could write up to nine songs a day. As of last weekend, Sheeran claims, he’s written 10 songs.
Then he sang only a few words of the pivotal tune, smiling on the faces of some of the spectators in Judge Louis L. Stanton’s courtroom.
He sang loud enough to be heard but didn’t raise the decibels in court: “I sing loud.”
After he finished singing those words, he spoke a little too, saying “Then the words drop” as he tried to teach the jury his way of making music. He said he collaborated on the song with co-writer, Amy Wadge, who wrote the opening chords.
Although he has performed with some of the world’s greatest artists and become a regular at music award shows at the age of 32, “I am not the most talented guitarist in the world,” he said from the witness stand with his chair tilted toward the judging panel.
When he slammed his hand into the witness stand’s microphone, he quickly said, “Sorry.”
Then he calls the song heirs of Ed Townsend, Gaye’s co-writer on “Let’s Get It On,” and says it has a “stunning similarity” and “more in common” to Gaye’s iconic 1973 musical treasure.
“When your legs don’t work like they used to,” he sings earnestly, as if he’s getting deeper into the song. Then, just a few bars later, he abruptly puts the guitar back in the rack behind him where his lawyer told the judge it was the right place to put it back for the week.
Two days earlier, he had been called to testify by attorneys for the plaintiffs and was adamant about telling the jurors that he and Wadge came up with the song without copying anyone else’s music.
He also said that a video showing him cutting on stage between “Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On” was not unusual, adding that “it’s easy to weave in and out of songs that are in the same key”.
On Thursday, his lawyer asked friendly questions, teasing at Sheeran about how he became interested in music after joining the church choir with his mother when he was four.
Sheeran appeared self-deprecating as he told his story, saying, “I can’t read music. I’m not classically trained in anything.”
He said he left school at 17 so he could perform up to three times a night, and play wherever he liked, from bingo halls to restaurants to “anywhere there’s nobody”.
Within a decade, he was performing with some of the biggest names in music, from Taylor Swift to the Rolling Stones, 50 Cent to Eric Clapton.
Before long, he said, he was writing eight or nine songs a day, explaining: “When inspiration comes in, you get excited and it just goes out.”
“Thinking Out Loud” and “Let’s Get It On” were released decades later, but some say they sound seamless when paired together.
“This has got to stop,” Townsend’s daughter, Katherine Griffin Townsend, He said last month. “We’ve had enough of the mess that’s going on in the world today, besides having to stand here and worry about other people stealing other people’s property.”
Near the end of his testimony, Sheeran was asked by his attorney why the expert called by prosecutors would try to show how the chords in “Thinking Out Loud” are similar to “Let’s Get It On”.
“He was saying that because it helps his argument,” Sheeran said.
This past March, the British songwriter He won a similar copyright lawsuit over his song “Shape of You”. Artist Sami Shoukry, better known as Sami Switch, has claimed that Sheeran’s 2017 song plagiarized her 2015 song “Oh Why”.
In his response last year on Instagram, Sheeran said such lawsuits damage the artist’s reputation.
“It must happen if 60,000 songs are released every day on Spotify. That means 22 million songs a year, and there are only 12 notes available,” he said.
“Lifelong beer expert. General travel enthusiast. Social media buff. Zombie maven. Communicator.”