Just a day after winning a copyright battle in UK court over his 2017 chart-topping smash “Shape Of You,” Ed Sheeran sat down with BBC Two’s Newsnight to explain why he felt compelled to go to trial to defend his musical honor and why he now films all his songwriting sessions, just in case.
“You can get a judgement or you can have a settlement and [when] you know that you’re in the right, then you can’t settle just out of principle. You can’t settle,” Sheeran reportedly told Newsnight after a High Court judge ruled on Wednesday (April 6) that Sheeran had not plagiarized the 2015 Sam Shokri song “Oh Why.” Sheeran and his co-writer, Snowpatrol’s Johnny McDaid, said the trial was an “extraordinary strain” on them, Ed said there was “no other choice” but to fight the allegation.
“Our royalties were frozen and we were given two options and we chose the option that was integral to us,” Sheeran said, with McDaid adding, “In the last year, it got really heavy and it was consuming. The cost to our mental health and creativity was really tangible.”
“Shape of You” spent 12 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and in his decision, Judge Antony Zacaroli ruled there was no evidence that Sheeran had intentionally or “subconsciously” copied from “Oh Why” when he wrote his chart-topping smash. He said that “while there are similarities” between the two songs, “there are also significant differences.”
After the verdict, Sheeran 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.”
Back in 2017, Sheeran settled a $20 million copyright infringement case over his song “Photograph” and now, he told Newsnight, he wishes he hadn’t. “I didn’t play ‘Photograph’ for ages after that. I just stopped playing it. I felt weird about it, it kind of made me feel dirty,” he said, noting that he also believed the settlement may have opened the “floodgates” and played a part in his most recent case.
Now, in order to potentially avoid any similar cases in the future, Sheeran said he films all his recording sessions, though he did not do it during collaborative songwriting sessions with other artists, including the “Shape of You” ones with McDaid and producer Steven McCutcheon. “Now I just film everything, everything is on film,” he said.
More chillingly, Sheeran lamented that the legal brawls have caused him to second-guess his songwriting choices and put a chill on one of his most beloved practices. “I personally think the best feeling in the world is the euphoria around the first idea of writing a great song,” he said. “That feeling has now turned into ‘oh wait, let’s stand back for a minute’. You find yourself in the moment, second-guessing yourself.”
For McDaid, the latest copyright battle has made him think that there needs to be more open lines of communication among people in the music industry than courtroom drama. “I think there’s obvious holes in the system at the moment,” said McDaid. “If I can go to a musicologist and get a report and take that report and they can freeze someone’s income based on that… that’s a problem… It creates a culture where it can be used as a threat and I think we need to be having conversations with societies, with managers, with artists, songwriters and say this isn’t OK for anybody.”