LONDON (AP) — Ed Sheeran didn’t steal from another songwriter when he wrote his 2017 mega-hit “Shape of You,” according to a much-anticipated court ruling here Wednesday.
Judge Zacaroli, the judge in charge of the case, said: “Mr. Sheeran did not deliberately or unwittingly copy the song “Oh Why” by British composer Sami Chokri.
There was no “more than speculative” evidence that Mr Sheeran had ever heard “Oh why,” Judge Zacaroli added, dismissing Mr Chokri’s claim of copyright infringement.
The plagiarism case was only the latest involving a prominent songwriter, but record industry executives have been watching the case closely because of its potential to bolster other claims.
At the heart of the case was a small portion of “Shape of You,” which topped the charts around the world and is one of the most-streamed songs on Spotify with more than three billion streams. In the song, Mr. Sheeran repeatedly sings the “Oh, I” hook, which Mr. Chokri says was based on a section of “Oh Why,” a 2015 song by the little-known British singer who performs under the name of Sami Switch. .
Judge Zacaroli’s ruling came after an 11-day trial at London’s High Court in March, which was the subject of intense media attention. Mr. Sheeran was in court throughout the proceedings and sang from the witness stand as he testified. At one point during the trial, Sheeran’s legal team accidentally played one of his unreleased songs, prompting a shocked Sheeran to ask his legal team, “How did you get that?” according to a BBC news report.
The case dates back to May 2018, when Sheeran and his “Shape of You” co-writers, who include Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, petitioned the High Court in London to declare that they had not copied Chokri’s work. Their claim arose after Chokri and a co-writer notified Britain’s Performing Rights Society, a body that pays royalties for songs, that they should be credited as songwriters for “Shape of You.” The society then stopped all payments to Sheeran and his co-writers.
Shortly after Sheeran took action, Chokri and his co-author filed their own legal claim, accusing Sheeran of copyright infringement.
During the hearing, Chorki’s legal team tried to portray Sheeran as a habitual plagiarist. Andrew Sutcliffe QC said Mr Sheeran was “no doubt very talented”, according to a report in The Times of London, but added: “He too is a magpie. He borrows ideas and incorporates them into songs from him.” Mr. Sutcliffe claimed that Mr. Sheeran only sometimes credited songwriters from whom he borrowed.
A lawyer for Sheeran told the court that Chokri’s song had received just 12,914 views on YouTube in the two years after it was released and had only been played twice on British radio, meaning few people had the chance. to listen to her.
But Mr. Chokri, in giving evidence, claimed that he knew Mr. Sheeran personally and had met him once at a branch of Nando’s, a chicken restaurant. Mr. Sheeran must have heard the song “through the many hotspots that my team and I have shared,” Mr. Chorki said, according to the Times of London.
Shortly after the trial, Mr. Sheeran posted a clip on Instagram in which he said “claims like this are all too common now.” “There were ‘so many notes and very few chords used in pop music,'” he added. “Coincidences are likely to happen if 60,000 songs are released every day on Spotify.”
In his ruling, Judge Zacaroli wrote that while Mr. Chokri’s shock at hearing “Shape of You” was understandable, given the similarities between the two songs, such coincidences “are not uncommon.” Even if Sheeran had been looking for inspiration for the song, he added, Chokri’s song was “far from an obvious source.”