Ed Sheeran Wins His “Shape Of You” Copyright-Infringement Case & Shares Video Message About Songwriting Lawsuits
In recent years, tons of big hit songs have become subject to copyright lawsuits, as other songwriters claim similarities between those big hits and their own tracks. The latest target of one such lawsuit is Ed Sheeran, whose “Shape Of You” was the biggest-selling single around the world in 2017. Sheeran already gave retroactive “Shape Of You” songwriting credits to the writers of TLC’s “No Scrubs,” but when two lesser-known British songwriters took Sheeran and his collaborators to court, they fought back. This morning, the London High Court ruled that Sheeran did not rip “Shape Of You” off from Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue, writers of the 2015 song “Oh Why.”
The legal dispute revolved around a tiny piece of “Shape Of You”: The bit where Sheeran sings “oh, I” a few times at the beginning of the chorus. Chokri and O’Donoghue argued that he’d taken that part from “Oh Why,” a song that Chokri released under the name Sami Switch. During the trial, Chokri and O’Donoghue’s lawyer Andrew Sutcliffe sought to portray Sheeran as a habitual borrower: “Mr. Sheeran is undoubtedly very talented, he is a genius. But he is also a magpie. He borrows ideas and throws them into his songs, sometimes he will acknowledge it but sometimes he won’t.” Sheeran and his co-writers, including Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid were in court for the whole trial, and Sheeran testified about his own songwriting process, mentioning at one point that he’d recently written many songs with the National’s Aaron Dessner.
This morning, Justice Anthony Zacaroli ruled that Sheeran had “neither deliberately nor subconsciously copied” Chokri and O’Donoghue’s song, and The New York Times reports. Zacaroli also said that the evidence on whether Sheeran had even ever heard “Oh Why” was “no more than speculative” and that coincidences in which two songs share elements “are not uncommon.”
After the ruling, Sheeran posted an Instagram video in which he said that plagiarism cases “are way too commmon now” and that the whole process “is really damaging to the songwriting industry. There’s only so many notes and very few chords used in pop music. Coincidence is bound to happen if 60,000 songs are being released everyday on Spotify.”
There’s been a ton of music-industry interest on this particular case, since plagiarism lawsuits like this have become so prevalent and since they’re so often settled out of court. This one could set a precedent that will cause songwriters to think twice about filing this kind of lawsuit.