Ed Sheeran denies ‘borrowing’ ideas from smaller songwriters in copyright court battle

Ed Sheeran has denied that he “borrows” ideas from unknown songwriters without providing acknowledgment.

He denied the allegations during a High Court trial about the copyright of his hit song Shape Of You. The popular singer gave live evidence on Monday as part of his legal battle with two songwriters – Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue.

The pair allege that Mr Sheeran’s 2017 song rips off parts of their track Oh Why – which the singer denies. On Friday, Andrew Sutcliffe QC claimed Mr Sheeran “borrows ideas and throws them into his songs by him, sometimes he will acknowledge it but sometimes he wo n’t”

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The barrister alleges that Mr Sheeran’s acknowledgment seems to depend on how famous the other artist is – he noted that Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue “are not Shaggy, Coldplay, Rihanna or Jay-Z” and said “if they were they would have been treated in a very different way”.

At the start of his evidence on Monday, Ian Mill QC, representing Mr Sheeran, asked: “Do you accept that you behave or have behaved in that way?”

Sami Chokri arrives at the Rolls Building at the High Court in London.

Mr Sheeran said “no”, before adding: “The examples he has been using are obviously famous artists, two of them are people I’ve made songs with.”

He continued that “if Mr Sutcliffe would have done his research”, he would have known there were “lots” of unknown artists he had cleared parts of songs with.

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Ed Sheeran appeared in the witness box in a dark suit with a dark tie. He gave several examples of when he had cleared aspects of songs with unknown artists, including sampling a part of a song from the TV show Buffy The Vampire Slayer from an “unknown composer”.

“All those examples are not famous artists that we’ve cleared songs with and that’s what I have to say on that,” he said. Mr Sheeran later denied that he was aware of Mr Chokri, a grime artist who performs under the name Sami Switch, earlier in his career.

Under cross-examination from Mr Sutcliffe, it was put to Mr Sheeran that he must have been aware of Mr Chokri because they appeared on YouTube channel SBTV at around the same time, they shared friends, Mr Chokri had sent messages to him on Twitter and Mr Sheeran had allegedly shouted his name at a performance.

“This is all stuff you’re saying, this isn’t stuff that’s true,” Mr Sheeran said.

Mr Sutcliffe asked him: “You’re saying you definitely weren’t aware of him, rather than you’ve forgot that you’re aware of him?”

“Yes,” Mr Sheeran said.

He told the court earlier that it was “very unlikely” he was asked to shout Sami Switch’s name at a performance, explaining that he does not do “shoutouts on stage” as he would “feel bad” if he forgets.

Mr Sheeran said he receives “hundreds of thousands of tweets”, but that he didn’t “look through it”.

He was also asked about videos uploaded by the late SBTV founder Jamal Edwards and tweets Mr Edwards posted referencing Sami Switch.

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Ed Sheeran arrives at the Rolls Building at the High Court in London

Mr Sheeran told the court that Mr Edwards “championed lots and lots of artists” and that “it wasn’t like I watched every single video he uploaded”.

He also said: “I followed him on Twitter, it doesn’t mean I read everything he wrote.”

Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue allege that Shape Of You infringes “particular lines and phrases” of their song, released in 2015.

They argue that a central “Oh I” hook in Shape Of You is “strikingly similar” to an “Oh Why” refrain in their own composition.

But Mr Sheeran’s lawyers have told the High Court that the singer and his co-writers, Steven McCutcheon and John McDaid, have no recollection of having heard Oh Why before the legal fight and deny the allegations of copying.

Mr Sheeran and his co-authors launched legal proceedings in May 2018, asking the High Court to declare they had not infringed Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue’s copyright.

In July 2018, Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue issued their own claim for “copyright infringement, damages and an account of profits in relation to the alleged infringement”.

The trial continues.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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