Ed Sheeran has officially triumphed in a years-long copyright infringement battle centering on his much-streamed “Shape of You” (2017) track.
Halifax, West Yorkshire-born Ed Sheeran’s team reached out to DMN with word of the legal victory this morning, having filed in May of 2018 for a declaration stating that Sheeran and fellow “Shape of You” songwriters Johnny McDaid and Steve McCutcheon hadn’t infringed upon a song entitled “Oh Why” (2015).
An individual named Sami Chokri (who releases music as Sami Switch) co-wrote the latter track with one Ross O’Donoghue, and the duo alleged that Sheeran had borrowed from the work to create “Shape of You.”
The five-year-old song, which released as part of 31-year-old Sheeran’s third studio album, has garnered a staggering 5.67 billion YouTube plays and, in December of 2021, became the first track to surpass three billion Spotify streams. Notwithstanding these massive listenership figures, PRS paused royalty payments on “Shape of You” after Chokri (“a serious and talented songwriter,” per the judge) and O’Donoghue said that they should be added as songwriters.
Lastly, regarding the multifaceted case’s background, cross examination revealed that the “Oh Why” creators’ copyright infringement claims pertained solely to Ed Sheeran, not McDaid and McCutcheon, according to the court’s 43-page-long judgement. Sheeran, it was alleged, had access to “Oh Why” via “a number of channels,” with early reports suggesting that Chokri had sent the song to Sheeran’s team in an effort to arrange a collaboration.
(As the case proceeded, though, it came to light that Chokri hadn’t in fact forwarded his work directly to Sheeran or his manager. The court elaborated in today’s ruling: “Although the defendants contend that they specifically wanted to get the song to Mr Sheeran’s attention, it was never sent either to him, his manager or to anyone associated with Mr Sheeran with a request that it be passed on to him. Mr Chokri said that he would have been embarrassed to do so as it would have come across as needy.”)
After recapping the precise infringement allegations against Sheeran, the exact dates and times that he crafted “Shape of You” (identified in part via “voice notes” captured by Snow Patrol’s McDaid), and the “Oh Why” creators’ efforts to promote the single and who they sent the work to as a result, the judge rejected the arguments of Chokri and O’Donoghue in opposition to the declaration of non-infringement.
In doing so, the court emphasized the aforementioned “royalties in suspense as a result of the defendants’ actions” – some $2.88 million (£2,200,000) – and reiterated that the individuals accused of infringement want “to clear their names” because their reputations “would be at risk from accusations of deliberate copying.”
Responding to the verdict in a joint statement, Ed Sheeran, Johnny McDaid and Steve McCutcheon said in part: “There was a lot of talk throughout this case about cost. But there is more than just a financial cost. There is a cost on creativity. When we are tangled up in law suits we are not making music or playing shows.”
From there, the more than 500-word-long document reads: “There is an impact on both us, and the wider circle of songwriters everywhere. Our hope in having gone through all of this, is that it shows that there is a need for a safe space for all songwriters to be creative, and free to express their hearts. That is why we all got into this in the first place. Everyone should be able to freely express themselves in music, in art and do so fearlessly.
“At the same time, we believe that there should be due process for legitimate and warranted copyright protection. However, that is not the same as having a culture where unwarranted claims are easily brought. This is not constructive or conducive to a culture of creativity.”
Last month, Katy Perry won an appeal in her much-publicized “Dark Horse” infringement lawsuit, while Dua Lipa was named in a complaint for allegedly copying a Florida-based indie group’s work to create “Levitating.”