Ed Sheeran Defends Copyright Infringement Claims with a Musical Performance on Witness Stand

Ed Sheeran has taken the witness stand at a copyright trial, where he faces claims that he copied material from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” for a new song a decade ago. Sheeran offered a spirited defence, as well as demonstrating his musical ability with a “mashup” of songs by Nina Simone, Bill Withers, Blackstreet and Van Morrison, as well as some of his own.
Ed Sheeran is defending himself in a copyright infringement lawsuit in New York. (Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Ed Sheeran said that he has received support from other performers, who share his worries about litigation resulting from their songwriting. “When you write songs, somebody comes after you,” Sheeran said.

The trial, which has been running for two weeks, stems from a lawsuit filed by Ed Townsend’s heirs several years ago, seeking unspecified damages. Ed Sheeran won a similar lawsuit last year over his 2017 hit “Shape of You“. During an opening statement last week, Townsend attorney Ben Crump said a Zurich concert clip in which Sheeran can be heard segueing on stage between “Let’s Get It On” and the alleged offending song, “Thinking Out Loud,” amounted to “smoking gun” proof that Sheeran was violating copyrights.

However, Sheeran’s attorney, Ilene Farkas, countered Crump’s claim by providing the jury with a mini-concert Monday from her client, who cheerfully picked up a guitar from behind his witness chair whenever she asked him to demonstrate how he could switch from his song to somebody else’s and back again in a practice known as “mashups.” He said he used the mashups to “spice it up a bit” during concerts, generally choosing songs that utilized similar chords.

“If it’s a love song, you might mash it up with another love song,” Ed Sheeran said, suggesting that Elvis Presley’s version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” or the Whitney Houston rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton, would mash well with “Thinking Out Loud.” Ed Sheeran expressed his admiration for Van Morrison, calling the Northern Irish singer “one of the most important influences in my life.”

During cross-examination, Sheeran’s good humor waned, as he faced questions from attorney Patrick Frank. He said he found it criminal that the expert witness had been brought in to testify against him. However, Ed Sheeran was adamant that he had not copied anything from “Let’s Get It On” when he wrote his song. “I find it really insulting,” he said.

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