Ed Sheeran wins the Shape of You copyright dispute and criticizes the ‘baseless’ charges made against him.
Ed Sheeran has won a High Court copyright battle over his 2017 hit Shape of You.
On Wednesday, a judge determined that the singer-songwriter had not plagiarized Sami Chokri’s 2015 song Oh Why.
Chokri, a grime musician known as Sami Switch, said the “Oh I” hook in Sheeran’s song was “strikingly similar” to an “Oh why” refrain in his own song.
Following the verdict, Sheeran stated that such “baseless” charges are “far too prevalent.”
In a social media video, he stated that there is now a culture “where a claim is filed with the expectation that a settlement would be less expensive than bringing it to court, even if there is no foundation for the claim.”
He added: “It’s really damaging to the songwriting industry. There are only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music.
“Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released every day on Spotify. That’s 22 million songs a year and there are only 12 notes that are available.”
The shape of You was the UK’s best-selling song of 2017 in the UK and is Spotify’s most-streamed ever.
Judge Antony Zacaroli ruled that Sheeran had “neither deliberately nor subconsciously copied” Chokri’s song.
He acknowledged there were “similarities between the one-bar phrase” in Shape of You and Oh Why, but said, “such similarities are only a starting point for a possible infringement” of copyright.
After studying the musical elements, he said there were “differences between the relevant parts” of the songs, which “provide compelling evidence that the ‘Oh I’ phrase” in Sheeran’s song “originated from sources other than Oh Why”.
He added that there was only a “speculative foundation” for the defense’s case that Sheeran had heard Chokri’s song before writing Shape of You. “I find, as a matter of fact, that he had not heard it,” he said.
Sheeran wrote his chart-topping track with two collaborators, Snow Patrol’s John McDaid and producer Steven McCutcheon, who all denied having previously heard Oh Why.
The case dates back to 2018 when the trio asked the High Court to declare they had not infringed the copyright of Chokri and his co-writer Ross O’Donoghue. That led to an 11-day trial in London last month.
This ruling will come as a huge relief to Ed Sheeran, who took the unusual step of pre-emptively suing Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue in 2018 in an attempt to clear his name.
He was stung by the accusation that he’d deliberately copied another writer’s work without giving them credit. On the witness stand, the star was often terse and abrupt as he explained how, in several other instances, he shared royalties with writers who inspired him. Even on Shape of You, he protested, some of the profits went to the writers of TLC’s No Scrubs.
He later sang Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and Blackstreet’s No Diggity on the stand in an attempt to prove the melody he was accused of stealing was commonplace in pop music.
Chokri was more emotional. He said he felt “robbed” by an artist he respected, and that he wished the trial had never come to court. However, he remained adamant that Sheeran had heard and copied his song.
In the end, the judge disagreed. In order for copyright infringement to be proved, Chokri needed to prove that Sheeran had listened to his song – otherwise, the similarities would just be a coincidence. But Mr. Justice Zacaroli said Chokri’s team had failed to establish that Oh Why had ever graced Sheeran’s speakers.
As a star who has faced his fair share of copyright claims, Sheeran will presumably hope this verdict makes future litigants think twice.
The Shape of You songwriters took legal action in 2018 after the track’s royalties were frozen when Chokri and O’Donoghue asked the Performing Rights Society (PRS) to add them to the hit’s credits as co-writers.
The shape of You earns Sheeran, McDaid, and McCutcheon about £5m a year, the court heard, despite almost 10% of the payments having been frozen due to the dispute.
In his ruling, Mr. Justice Zacaroli said Sheeran and his collaborators were justified in thinking the request from Chokri and O’Donoghue to be named as co-writers “was a tactic designed to extract a settlement”.
After the initial legal action, Chokri and O’Donoghue launched a counter-claim alleging copyright infringement.
In a joint statement after the judgement, Sheeran, McDaid and McCutcheon said their mental health and creativity had suffered as a result of the case, as well as their wallets.
“There was a lot of talk throughout this case about cost,” they said. “But there is more than just a financial cost. There is a cost to creativity. When we are tangled up in lawsuits, we are not making music or playing shows.
“There is a cost on our mental health. The stress this causes on all sides is immense. It affects so many aspects of our everyday lives and the lives of our families and friends. We are not corporations. We are not entities. We are human beings.”
Giving evidence last month, Sheeran denied that he “borrows” ideas from unknown songwriters without acknowledgement, insisting he was always “completely fair” in crediting people who contribute to his work.
Andrew Sutcliffe QC, representing Chokri and O’Donoghue, labelled Sheeran a “magpie”, claiming he “habitually copies” other artists and that it was “extremely likely” he had previously heard Oh Why.
In closing arguments last month, Mr Sutcliffe said there was an “indisputable similarity between the works”. But Sheeran’s lawyer said the case against him was “so strained as to be logically unintelligible”.
Forensic musicologists were called by both sides to argue the case, giving contrasting views. One said the songs were “distinctly different” but the other argued they contained “significant similarities”.
Ian Mill QC, representing Sheeran, said the case had been “deeply traumatising” for the star and his collaborators, while Chokri described the High Court case as “the worst few weeks of my life”.