Ed Sheeran has taken a stand against a “damaging” culture of “unjustified” legal claims against songwriters after winning a High Court copyright battle over his track “Shape Of You”.
The singer said legal challenges are “way too common” since a judge ruled his 2017 hit didn’t infringe another artist’s song.
Sheeran and his Shape Of You co-writers, Snow Patrol’s John McDaid and producer Steven McCutcheon, have been accused of stealing the 2015 song Oh Why by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue.
Judge Zacaroli issued a ruling Wednesday, concluding that Sheeran “neither intentionally nor unknowingly” copied a sentence from Oh Why when writing Shape Of You.
The judge said arguments that Sheeran had previously heard Oh Why were “speculative,” and he dismissed claims that the star was a “magpie” who “usually intentionally copies and obscures the work of other songwriters.”
Sheeran and his co-authors originally filed a court case in May 2018, asking the Supreme Court to declare that they did not infringe Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright.
Two months later, Chokri — a grime artist who performs under the name Sami Switch — and O’Donoghue introduced their own lawsuit seeking “copyright infringement, damages and profit settlement related to the alleged infringement.”
The couple claimed an “Oh I” hook on “Shape Of You” was “strikingly similar” to an “Oh Why” chorus on their own track.
All three of Shape Of You’s co-writers denied allegations of copying and said they could not recall listening to Oh Why before the lawsuit.
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Judge Zacaroli dismissed Chokri’s counterclaim Wednesday and issued a statement to Sheeran and his fellow songwriters that they did not infringe the copyright of Oh Why.
In a video message following the verdict, Sheeran said, “Claims like this are far too common now and have become a culture where claims are made with the idea that a settlement is cheaper than going to court, even if there isn’t a basis.” for the claim and it’s really detrimental to the songwriting industry.
“Litigation is not a pleasant experience and I hope this ruling will help avoid baseless claims like these in the future. This really has to end.”
In a separate joint statement with his co-authors, Sheeran detailed the cost of the “creativity” her case had, as well as the drain on her mental health.
They added: “We believe there should be due process for legitimate and justifiable copyright protection.
“However, this is not the same as a culture in which unjustified claims are easily made. That is neither constructive nor conducive to a culture of creativity.”
In his ruling, Judge Zacaroli said his analysis of Shape Of You’s musical elements and writing process “provide compelling evidence that the Oh I phrase came from sources other than Oh Why.”
He said while there are “similarities” between the two song hooks, there are also “significant differences.”
The judge said that the songs’ phrases “play very different roles,” with the “Oh Why” hook reflecting the track’s “slow, brooding, and questioning mood,” while Shape Of You’s Oh I phrase was “something catchy, um to fill the bar” before the next part of the song.
He continued, “The use of the first four notes of the ascending minor pentatonic scale for the melody is so brief, simple, commonplace, and so obvious in the context of the rest of the song that it’s not credible that Mr. Sheeran took inspiration from any of the other songs.” join in.”
The judge said Sheeran, McCutcheon and McDaid “didn’t know” the dispute had frozen £2.2million in royalties on their song and said they were only in court to “clear their names”.
However, he said it was a “significant amount of money” and “provides commercial justification” for making a statement.
Isaac Murdy, intellectual property specialist at the law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said: “This decision shows that the British intellectual property courts will not support speculative US-style litigation.”
Gill Dennis, copyright and trademark protection expert at Pinsent Masons, said that copyright infringement suits “are notoriously difficult to succeed,” stressing that a plaintiff must “prove with hard evidence that the defendant had access to the song in order to to copy it”. .
During the 11-day trial at the Rolls Building in London last month, Sheeran denied he “borrows” ideas from unknown songwriters without credit, insisting he’s “always tried to be absolutely fair” when acknowledging people who contributed to his albums.
He also denied using lawsuits to “intimidate” Chokri and O’Donoghue into dropping the copyright dispute.
Chokri told the trial he felt “robbed” by Sheeran and was “shocked” when he first heard Shape Of You on the radio.
Ian Mill QC, representing Sheeran, McDaid and McCutcheon, said the allegations against them were “impossible to hold”, with evidence suggesting Shape Of You was an “independent creation”.
Sheeran was present throughout the trial, frequently breaking out in song and humming scales and tunes as he took the witness stand.
Oh Why co-writers’ attorney Andrew Sutcliffe QC claims Sheeran is an artist who “alters” words and music owned by others to “pass as original”.
It has also been claimed that Sheeran must have been aware of Chokri because they appeared on YouTube channel SBTV around the same time, they had mutual friends, Chokri had messaged him on Twitter, and Sheeran had allegedly called his name at a performance.
Mr Sutcliffe suggested Sheeran “consciously or unconsciously” had Oh Why in mind when Shape Of You was being written at McCutcheon’s Rokstone Studios in west London in October 2016.
But Mr Mill said the Shape Of You co-writers were clear they had “no preconceived ideas” when they hit the studio.
Musicologists expressed conflicting views during the trial as to whether Shape Of You bears “significant similarities” to “Oh Why” or is “strikingly” different from it.
Mr Sutcliffe claimed Sheeran’s lawyers started the court case because PRS for Music – the industry body that collects and distributes royalties – “frozen” payments on UK broadcast and performance revenue from Shape Of You.
But the judge ruled that the Shape Of You co-writers were entitled to believe the PRS suspension was “a tactic to reach a settlement.”
Shape Of You was a worldwide hit, becoming the best-selling song of 2017 in the UK and the most-streamed track in Spotify history.
Oh Why has only been played on radio twice and attempts to publicize it on social media have not met with “material success,” the judge said, adding there is no evidence the track and its video Sheeran was ever played by anyone or were shown.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/ed-sheeran-condemns-damaging-culture-of-legal-claims-after-copyright-victory-41526273.html Ed Sheeran condemns ‘damaging’ legal claims culture after copyright victory