Ed Sheeran has been dubbed a “magpie” who allegedly “borrowed” ideas from other artists to use in his songs on the first day of a High Court trial over his hit “Shape Of You.”
The singer is in a legal battle with two songwriters, Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue, who claim Sheeran’s 2017 hit is ripping off parts of her track Oh Why.
Chokri, a grime artist who performs under the name Sami Switch, and O’Donoghue claim Shape Of You violates “certain lines and phrases” of their 2015-released song.
They argue that a central “Oh I” hook in “Shape Of You” is “strikingly similar” to an “Oh Why” chorus in their own composition.
Her attorneys claim that Sheeran “commonly” “copied” other artists and that it was “highly likely” that he had previously heard “Oh Why.”
But Sheeran’s lawyers have told the High Court that the singer and his co-writers, Steven McCutcheon and John McDaid, have no recollection of hearing Oh Why before the lawsuit and deny the allegations of copying.
Sheeran and his co-authors began court proceedings in May 2018, asking the High Court to declare that they had not infringed Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright.
In July 2018, Chokri and O’Donoghue filed their own lawsuit alleging “copyright infringement, damages and profit settlement related to the alleged infringement.”
Wearing a dark suit and tie, Sheeran attended the start of a three-week trial over the copyright dispute at the Rolls Building in central London on Friday.
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Andrew Sutcliffe QC, for Chokri and O’Donoghue, said the key question in the case is ‘how does Ed Sheeran write his music?’ and whether he ‘invents things on the fly’ in songwriting sessions.
The attorney said, “Or is the truth of the matter is that his songwriting process is more nuanced and less spontaneous…involves collecting and developing ideas over time that reference and interpolate other artists?” Such is the case of the defendants.
“Mr. Sheeran is undoubtedly very talented, he is a genius. But he’s also a magpie,” added Mr Sutcliffe.
“He borrows ideas and throws them into his songs, sometimes he’ll appreciate it, sometimes he won’t.”
The lawyer said it “depends on who you are and if he thinks he can get away with it”.
Mr Sutcliffe later said it was “an extraordinary feature of this case that, despite the dismissal of the Oh Why hook as commonplace, plaintiffs have failed to find any other hook remotely similar”.
He claimed the experts involved in the case had not found “another example of an oh-why or oh-me phrase with the same phonetic pitch and rhythm.”
In written submissions, Mr. Sutcliffe claimed that experts “have not been able in the last 250 years to identify any other example that is even remotely comparable”.
“We say this shows very clearly how unlikely the Shape of You-Hook is to be created independently,” Mr Sutcliffe told the court.
The hooks of Shape Of You and Oh Why were played in the courtroom on Friday afternoon, with Sheeran showing no reaction as excerpts from both songs played over the courtroom speakers.
Mr Sutcliffe said: “The resemblance between the two hooks is striking and immediately apparent.
“They sound almost identical, they are such that an ordinary, reasonably experienced listener might think that one might have come from the other.
“Of course, that alone does not prove that there has been copying, but it is an important starting point.”
Mr Sutcliffe claimed it was “extremely likely” that Sheeran “heard it at some point, even if he doesn’t remember it”.
In written arguments, Mr Sutcliffe claimed Sheeran had “a penchant for brainstorming ideas for songs” and that there was an “overwhelming instance” of him “copying other artists’ work, including choruses and call-and-answer sections”.
The High Court also heard that PRS for Music – the industry body that collects and distributes royalties – had suspended payment to Sheeran and his co-writers for performing or broadcasting Shape Of You.
Ian Mill QC, representing Sheeran and his two co-authors, said the PRS earnings were a “very significant source of income” for the three men in written submissions.
He claimed Oh Why was written when Chokri “was having personal issues and feelings of self-pity” and that it was a “dark composition that questions why there is so much pain and suffering in the world”.
Mr Mill said that “Shape Of You” was “an uplifting song about meeting a girl and falling in love”.
“The feeling Shape Of You evokes couldn’t be more different than Oh Why,” he added.
The attorney later claimed that Oh Why had “gained little or no public recognition or success and limited notoriety,” adding that it had garnered fewer than 13,000 YouTube views seven months after Shape Of You formed.
He stated that Sheeran worked at “extraordinary speed” and “wrote almost all of his songs in less than two hours,” with Shape Of You being created by its three creators “within a few hours” in October 2016.
Mr Mill said that Chokri and O’Donoghue’s claim that Sheeran had “access” to their work was “razor thin at best”.
He said there was “conclusive evidence” that the creators of “Shape Of You” had not heard “Oh Why” at the time it was written.
“Not only are there no contemporary documents showing that Oh Why was sent to Mr. Sheeran or members of his management, Mr. Sheeran also provides evidence that he does not listen to recordings sent to him by people who want to work with him , in order not to be found in the situation in which he is in this case.
“Again, the defendants are grasping at straws,” Mr Mill said.
The attorney later said that there could be no claim to the song’s lyrical content as “‘Oh Why’ and ‘Oh I’ are obviously different”.
He continued, “The point of similarity only arises when you ignore the fact that ‘why’ and ‘me’ are different words, with different meanings and different functions in each song.”
Shape Of You was a worldwide hit, becoming the best-selling song of 2017 in the UK and the most-streamed song in Spotify history.
The trial before Mr Justice Zacaroli will continue on Monday, with the verdict likely to be postponed to a later date.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/ed-sheeran-labelled-a-magpie-in-court-fight-over-copyright-infringement-41413327.html Ed Sheeran called a copyright infringement lawsuit a “magpie.”