Ed Sheeran's Win in Court Is a Victory for Creativity and a Loss for Grifters

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, FILE)

You may or may not be a fan of Ed Sheeran—he’s a current pop artist who has produced a slew of catchy hits that are at times personal and reflective and at others just simple and bubbly and meant to reflect a feeling. But regardless of whether or not you enjoy his particular brand of music, you should be celebrating the fact that the lawsuit against him for plagiarism was recently decided in his favor in a Manhattan courtroom.

Sheeran was sued by the heirs of Ed Townsend, who composed Marvin Gaye’s 1973 hit “Let’s Get It On” for allegedly stealing key components of the song for his own hit “Thinking Out Loud.”

Come on, man, listen to these two songs and tell me they’re the same thing—they’re not. Stylistically, the two performers couldn’t be more different and their songs evoke completely different emotional responses.


It’s been an insidious assault on creativity, these lawsuits against musical artists for “stealing,” and it’s not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s been going on for decades, as greedy relatives of musical artists try to cash in on their relatives’ masterpieces by claiming that anything remotely resembling their work should be considered a crime.

The fact is that all music is built upon the work of our predecessors, and every genre and song owes its existence to the work of artists in the past. The entire pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll owes its naissance to the blues—are we to outlaw the catalog because it grew from the music of previous musicians?

Take this case against the Beatles for their seminal classic “Come Together”:

Music publisher Morris Levy sued John Lennon over The Beatles’ 1969 hit “Come Together,” alleging it copied Chuck Berry’s 1956 song “You Can’t Catch Me.” For one, the Beatles song begins with the lyric “here come old flat-top,” and Berry’s song features the lyric “here come a flat-top.” Lennon also admitted in an interview that Berry’s song influenced him. “‘Come Together’ is me — writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing,” Lennon later said, per Far Out. “I left the line ‘Here comes old flat-top.’ It is nothing like the Chuck Berry song, but they took me to court because I admitted the influence once years ago.” The case was settled out of court.


The songs sound nothing alike, but that one line—an homage in my opinion, not a steal—made the Beatles have to settle.

And it wasn’t the only time a Beatle member was forced to pony up—in the 1970s after the band had broken up, George Harrison had to pay $587,000 because his smash hit “My Sweet Lord” sounded just a little too similar to Ronnie Mack’s “He’s So Fine.” Harrison was profoundly impacted by the decision and by some accounts was never the same. “Maybe they did own those notes,” he said at the time. Own those notes, are you serious?!

Once again, the songs sound nothing alike; they may have a similar chord structure but stylistically they are worlds apart and impart entirely different feelings among listeners. Are we going to copyright chord progressions, really? There are a finite amount, after all. If you’ve ever played guitar, you know that E, A, D, and C are the most commonly used—should many of the combinations of these chords be outlawed because they’ve been strung together before?

There are cases of outright pilfering, such as when Vanilla Ice ripped the bassline off David Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s fantastic “Under Pressure,” and ultimately was (rightly) forced to give them songwriting credit. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

The danger is with songs like the catchy Robin Thicke-Pharell Williams ditty “Blurred Lines.” Regardless of what you think of Thicke’s personal life or his scandalous performance with Miley Cyrus on the 2013 MTV Awards, the lawsuit filed against him was a travesty of justice and an assault on creativity. The pair were ordered to pay more than $7 million (later reduced to $5.3 million) because their song was influenced by Marvin Gaye’s 1977 track “Got to Give It Up.” Thicke admitted that he wanted the feeling of Gaye’s song and that he was “channeling” it. But does that count as plagiarism? It sets a bar that few musical artists could live up to.

Producer Harvey Mason Jr., who is now CEO of the Recording Academy, argued to Rolling Stone:

This verdict set a “very dangerous precedent for anyone who has ever written a song,” and a group of over 200 musicians backed an appeal, arguing the verdict “threatens to punish songwriters for creating new music that is inspired by prior works.”

The numbers had some similarities, yes, but they were very different songs and gave entirely different vibes to listeners.

As an avowed rock fan, I have always loved Tom Petty—but I lost a lot of respect for him when he went after Sam Smith for his song “Stay With Me.” (As we have reported here, Sam Smith is not someone we should look up to, but that is not the subject here.) Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down” may have some connection with Smith’s effort, but they are hardly the same pieces of music. Decide for yourself:


Sheeran for his part described his emotions after prevailing in the case against him:

One thing that felt like the biggest win for me was afterward, Kathryn Griffin-Townsend and her family came up to me and hugged me and said ‘We believe you,'” Sheeran revealed. “It’s never a nice thing winning and someone else losing, but walking away knowing I did the right thing and they believed me was the biggest win.” Sheeran continued, “On both sides, it takes a massive toll, both personally and financially. It’s about heart and integrity and that’s why I fought it. I can’t be accused of something I didn’t do and I had to prove that.”

His analysis of the case, songwriting, creativity, and the use of familiar chords is spot on:

“Star Wars” would probably not even exist if it weren’t for the efforts of Gene Roddenberry and his campy but surprisingly profound series, “Star Trek,” starring the incomparable William Shatner. If you grew up on “Star Wars,” you think that “Star Trek” was just a silly little series with bad special effects—but if you experienced “Star Trek,” you know that it was light-years before its time and grappled with the mind-challenging possibilities of the future and the current state of man.

The truth is, both series were incredible leaps of the imagination and had wide impacts on our culture. But to accuse either creation of “stealing” from previous work, even if they both were clearly derived from the earlier efforts of great sci-fi writers before them, would be to argue that you can never touch upon a subject that someone has before you.  Even before “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” there were the foundations laid by the great science fiction writers Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, and even before them H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

It seems to me that these people in the music industry suing artists for copying their work are just greedy, money-grubbing gold-diggers who betray their ancestors’ artistic endeavors and threaten the process of creativity. While artists may p*** us off sometimes with their provocative tendencies, they are an important component in what makes America great, and we must stop these efforts to muzzle them.

Whether or not you appreciate Ed Sheeran’s music, you should be glad that a jury said “no” to the ridiculous charges against him.


The opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of


Trending on RedState Videos