On Wednesday, a judge ruled that Halifax-born singer-songwriter had not plagiarised the 2015 song Oh Why by grime artist Sami Chokri.
Chokri, who performs and records under the name Sami Switch, had claimed the "Oh I" hook in Sheeran's track was "strikingly similar" to an "Oh why" refrain in his own track.
Shape Of You was a worldwide hit, becoming the best-selling song of 2017 in the UK and the most streamed track in Spotify’s history.
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After the ruling, Sheeran said such "baseless" claims "are way too common".
What was Sheeran accused of?
Sheeran and his Shape Of You co-writers, Snow Patrol’s John McDaid and producer Steven McCutcheon, had faced accusations they ripped off 2015 song Oh Why by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue.
Sheeran and his co-authors originally launched legal proceedings in May 2018, asking the High Court to declare they had not infringed Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright.
Two months later, Chokri and O’Donoghue issued their own claim for “copyright infringement, damages and an account of profits in relation to the alleged infringement”.
All three Shape Of You co-authors denied allegations of copying and said they did not remember hearing Oh Why before the legal fight.
What did the judge rule?
Giving a ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Zacaroli concluded Sheeran “neither deliberately nor subconsciously” copied a phrase from Oh Why when writing Shape Of You.
The judge said arguments that Sheeran had previously heard Oh Why were “speculative”, and he rejected allegations the star is a “magpie” who “habitually deliberately copies and conceals the work of other songwriters”.
Mr Justice Zacaroli dismissed Chokri’s counterclaim on Wednesday and granted a declaration to Sheeran and his fellow songwriters that they had not infringed the copyright in Oh Why.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Zacaroli said his analysis of the musical elements of Shape Of You and its writing process “provide compelling evidence that the Oh I phrase originated from sources other than Oh Why”.
He said while there are “similarities” between the two songs hooks, there are also “significant differences”.
The judge said the songs’ phrases “play very different roles”, with the Oh Why hook reflecting the track’s “slow, brooding and questioning mood”, while Shape Of You’s Oh I phrase was “something catchy to fill the bar” before the next part of the song.
He continued: “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 said Sheeran, McCutcheon and McDaid were “unaware” the dispute had frozen £2.2 million in royalties from their song and had said they were only in court to “clear their names”.
However, he said that is a “substantial amount of money” and “provides a commercial justification” for making a declaration.
What did Chokri tell the trial?
Chokri told the trial he felt “robbed” by Sheeran and was “shocked” when he first heard Shape Of You on the radio.
Ian Mill QC, for Sheeran, McDaid and McCutcheon, said the allegations against them were “impossible to hold”, with the evidence pointing to Shape Of You being an “independent creation”.
Sheeran was present throughout the trial and frequently burst into song and hummed musical scales and melodies when he took to the witness stand.
The Oh Why co-writers’ lawyer, Andrew Sutcliffe QC, alleged Sheeran is an artist who “alters” words and music belonging to others to “pass as original”.
It was also claimed Sheeran must have been aware of Chokri because they appeared on YouTube channel SBTV at about the same time, they shared friends, Chokri had sent messages to him on Twitter, and Sheeran had allegedly shouted his name at a performance.
Mr Sutcliffe suggested Sheeran “consciously or unconsciously” had Oh Why in his head when Shape Of You was written at McCutcheon’s Rokstone Studios in west London in October 2016.
But Mr Mill said the Shape Of You co-writers were clear they had “no preconceived ideas” when they went into the studio.
What has Sheeran said since the ruling?
In a video message after the ruling, Sheeran said: “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 is no basis for the claim, and it’s really damaging to the songwriting industry.
“Lawsuits are not a pleasant experience and I hope with this ruling it means in the future baseless claims like this can be avoided. This really does have to end.”
In a separate joint statement with his fellow co-writers, Sheeran detailed the cost on “creativity” their case had, as well as the toll on their mental health.
They added: “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.”
What else has been said?
Isaac Murdy, intellectual property specialist at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said: “This ruling indicates that the UK intellectual property courts aren’t going to support American-style speculative litigation.”
Gill Dennis, copyright and brand protection expert at Pinsent Masons, said copyright infringement proceedings are “notoriously challenging to succeed in”, highlighting a claimant “must prove, with hard evidence, that the defendant had access to the song in order to copy it”.