LONDON — Ed Sheeran didn’t steal from another songwriter when he penned his 2017 megahit “Shape of You,” according to a much-anticipated court ruling here on Wednesday.
Judge Zacaroli, the judge handling the case, said: “Mr. Sheeran neither deliberately nor unknowingly copied” the track “Oh Why” by British songwriter Sami Chokri.
There was “nothing more than speculative evidence” that Mr. Sheeran had never even heard “Oh why”, added Judge Zacaroli, dismissing Mr. Chokri’s copyright infringement claim.
The plagiarism case was just the latest involving a high-profile songwriter, but record industry executives have been following the case closely, due to its potential to bolster other allegations. .
At the heart of the matter was a tiny part of “Shape of You,” which topped global charts and is one of the most streamed songs on Spotify with more than three billion plays. In the track, Mr Sheeran repeatedly sings the hook “Oh, I”, which Mr Chokri said was based on a section of “Oh Why”, a 2015 track by the little-known British singer who performs under the name of Sami Switch. .
Judge Zacaroli’s decision 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 trial and sang from the witness box while testifying. At one point during the trial, Mr. Sheeran’s legal team accidentally played one of his unreleased songs, prompting a shocked Mr. Sheeran to ask his legal team, “How did you get this? ” according to a BBC News report.
The case dates back to May 2018, when Mr Sheeran and his ‘Shape of You’ co-writers, including Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, asked the High Court in London to declare that they had not copied the work of Mr. Chokri. Their claim arose after Mr Chokri and a co-writer notified Britain’s Performing Rights Society, a body that pays song royalties, that they should be credited as songwriters on ‘Shape of You “. The company then suspended all payments to Mr. Sheeran and his co-authors.
Shortly after Mr. Sheeran took action, Mr. Chokri and his co-author filed their own lawsuit, accusing Mr. Sheeran of copyright infringement.
During the hearing, Mr. Chorki’s legal team attempted to portray Mr. Sheeran as a habitual plagiarist. Andrew Sutcliffe QC said Mr Sheeran was ‘undoubtedly very talented’, according to a report by The Times of London, but added: ‘He’s also a magpie. He borrows ideas and throws them into his songs. Mr. Sutcliffe claimed that Mr. Sheeran only sometimes credits the songwriters he has borrowed from.
A lawyer for Mr Sheeran told the court that Mr Chokri’s song only received 12,914 plays on YouTube in the two years following its release and was only played twice on UK radio, which which means that few people had the chance to hear it.
But Mr Chokri, testifying, claimed 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 me and my team shared”, Mr Chorki said, according to The Times of London.
In his decision, 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 though Mr Sheeran had looked for the inspiration for the track, he added, Mr Chokri’s track was “far from an obvious source”.