Ed Sheeran has won a copyright battle in UK court over his chart-topping 2017 hit “Shape of You,” after a judge ruled Wednesday (April 6) that the star did not copy the song from a little-known track.
The judge ruled that Sheeran’s mega hit, which spent 12 weeks atop the Hot 100, did not infringe a 2015 song called “Oh Why” released by an artist named Sami Chokri, who performs as Sami Switch, and music producer Ross O’Donoghue.
In his decision, Judge Antony Zacaroli ruled there was no evidence that Sheeran had intentionally or “subconsciously” copied from “Oh Why” when he wrote “Shape of You.” He said that “while there are similarities” between the two songs, “there are also significant differences.”
Sheeran quickly celebrated the ruling in a video posted to social media – and blasted what he called “baseless” lawsuits and the harm they’re doing to the music industry.
“While we’re obviously happy with the result, I feel like claims like this are way too common now and have become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking it to court. Even if there’s no base for the claim,” Sheeran said. “It’s 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 every day on Spotify.”
An attorney for Chokri and O’Donoghue did not immediately return a request for comment on the decision.
The ruling came nearly four years after Chokri and O’Donoghue first accused Sheeran and cowriters Steven McCutcheon and Johnny McDaid of copying the earlier song. The trio denied the claims and launched legal proceedings in May 2018, asking the UK’s High Court to declare they had not infringed any copyright.
In an 11-day trial in London last month, Sheeran repeatedly took the stand and fended off accusations that he was a “magpie” who borrows from other songwriters. The star also briefly sang from the witness stand, singing brief bursts of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and his 2013 single “I See Fire” to illustrate the melody he was accused of copying is a commonly used minor pentatonic pattern.
In his decision on Wednesday, the Judge Zacaroli said that the two phrases at the heart of the dispute “play very different roles in their respective songs” with the “Oh Why” hook reflecting the song’s “slow, brooding and questioning mood, while Sheeran’s “Oh I” line acts as “something catchy to fill the bar.”
“The use of the first four notes of the rising minor pentatonic scale for the melody is so short, simple, commonplace and obvious in the context of the rest of the song that it is not credible that Mr Sheeran sought out inspiration from other songs to come up with it,” the judge wrote.
The judge also shot down the the argument from Chokri and O’Donoghue’s attorneys that the speed at which Sheeran had written his hit suggested he had copied it from the earlier song.
“I reject that submission,” Zacaroli wrote. “The clear picture gained from all those that work with him in writing songs is that he has a rare ability to come up with lyrical and melodic ideas, and connect them together to create catchy songs, at great speed.”
Released in January 2017 alongside “Castle On The Hill” as one of two lead singles from Sheeran’s third studio album ÷ (Divide), “Shape of You” topped numerous charts around the world, including Australia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Billboard Hot 100, where it held the No. 1 spot for 12 weeks and spent a total of 59 weeks on the U.S. chart.
To date, “Shape of You” has registered 2.2 billion on-demand streams in the U.S and 2.98 million U.S downloads, according to Luminate, formerly MRC Data, while the track has logged 9.2 billion in cumulative U.S. radio audience impressions. In December, “Shape of You” became the first song to reach three billion streams on Spotify. The song also won best pop solo performance at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.
Over the years, Sheeran has repeatedly faced copyright lawsuits. In 2017, he settled a U.S. case over Tim McGraw’s “The Rest of Our Life,” which he co-authored, and he settled another case in 2018 over his hit “Photograph.” He’s also facing a looming trial in New York federal court over allegations that he copied his “Thinking Out Loud” from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
In his statement on Wednesday, Sheeran made a personal appeal about the toll taken by such cases.
“I just want to say: I’m not an entity, I’m not a corporation, I’m a human being and a father and a husband and a son,” Sheeran said. “Lawsuits are not a pleasant experience and I hope that this ruling means in the future baseless claims like this can be avoided.”
See Ed’s comments and a copy of the ruling below.