British Singer Ed Sheeran has won the copyright battle over his most successful single ‘Shape of You’ in the London Hugh Court. The Court has ruled that the singer ‘neither deliberately nor subconsciously’ copied any phrase from Sami Chokri’s ‘Oh Why’ while creating the globally popular sensational soundtrack.
On Wednesday, Justice Antony Zacaroli concluded in a ruling that Ed Sheeran and his co-writer John McDaid “neither deliberately nor subconsciously” copied a phrase from Oh Why when writing Shape of You. It all started in 2018, when Sami Chokri, a grime artist alleged that the “Oh I” hook in Sheeran’s Shape Of You was strikingly similar to an “Oh Why” refrain in his 2015 track which goes by the same name. Sheeran along with his co-writer John McDaid and producer Steven McCutcheon denied copying the song by Sami Chokri.
In the same year, Sheeran, McDaid and McCutcheon with publishers Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Rokstone Music Limited, Polar Patrol Music and Kobalt Music, issued legal proceedings against Oh Why’s songwriters Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue in a bid to get a legal declaration clarifying that there was no copyright infringement with Shape of You. Reportedly, Two months later, the ‘Oh Why’ duo issued a counterclaim to the Shape of You team alleging direct copyright infringement and asked for damages and an account of profits.
The legal tussle started in May 2018 continued for four years and concluded in a ruling in Ed Sheeran’s favour on Wednesday. In his ruling, Justice Zacaroli asserted, “that there were ‘similarities between the one-bar phrase’ in ‘Shape of You’ and ‘Oh Why’ saying, ‘such similarities are only a starting point for a possible infringement’ of copyright.” After studying both songs, the Justice concluded that there were “differences between the relevant parts of the songs, which provide compelling evidence that the ‘Oh I’ phrase in Shape of You originated from sources other than Oh Why.” The anticipated cost for the legal battle was touted to be £3M between both parties.
In his defence, Sheeran said that he did not borrow ideas from unknown songwriters without acknowledgement and insisted he ‘always tried to be completely fair’ in crediting people who contributed to his albums. With the ‘Oh I’ phrase in the song, Sheeran said that he has used a basic minor pentatonic pattern which is entirely commonplace in compositions. According to Indian Classical Musicians, The Pentatonic scale in Western music is also related to the ‘Audav’ Jaati Ragas or compositions which are strictly based on five notes.
It is possible for musicians to base the tune on similar scales in their compositions, which does not account for copyright infringement as musical scales are universal. However, this is not the only case where Ed Sheeran is facing a lawsuit. In 2016, he was sued over his single ‘Photograph’ which was settled outside the court and a USD 100 Million legal battle over ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is still ongoing.