Ed Sheeran denies 'Shape of You' copyright claim in UK court

The Grammy winner has been accused of copyright infringement by the songwriters behind 'Oh Why'

British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran leaves the Rolls Building of the High Court in London on March 7, 2022, after attending the second day of the copyright trial. AFP
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Ed Sheeran has “always tried to be completely fair” in crediting people who contribute to his albums, the London High Court has heard in a copyright trial.

Sheeran is in a legal battle with two songwriters, Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue, who allege that his 2017 hit Shape of You rips off parts of their track Oh Why — something he denies.

Shape of You was a worldwide hit, becoming the best-selling song of 2017 in the UK and the most-streamed song in the history of Spotify.

The singer-songwriter began to give evidence on Monday at the start of the second day of the trial, sitting in the witness box in a black suit and tie.

On a small number of occasions, Sheeran would scat or sing a few lines of a song to illustrate a point.

Addressing the court, Sheeran described his songwriting process, denying having premeditated ideas.

The singer told the court: “As I hear a beat, I hear a song and melody comes out.”

He later said: “I write a lot of songs and if I haven’t written a song within two hours, I see it as a failure.”

Explaining his songwriting process, he said in his written evidence: “I frequently write and record a number of songs in a day. I have recently had a session lasting a week in which I wrote 25 songs.”

He said: “I think of them as sort of ‘excitement bottles’ — if a song is working, the excitement pushes it to the point where it’s finished; if it’s not, then I’ll leave it and move on to something else.”

Sheeran later said he had “always tried to be completely fair in crediting anyone who makes any contribution to any song I write”. He said he did refer to other works like “many songwriters”.

“If there is a reference to another work, I notify my team so that steps can be taken to obtain clearance,” he continued.

“I have been as scrupulous as I possibly can and have even given credits to people who I believe may have been no more than a mere influence for a songwriting element.”

Sketch of Ed Sheeran in the High Court, London, by artist Elizabeth Cook

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

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

In written evidence, the Thinking Out Loud singer said before the legal case that he was not aware of either Chokri or O’Donoghue, had not heard Oh Why or the EP it was featured on.

Sheeran also said he does not recall meeting Chokri, despite Chokri’s claim that they met at a party in a Nando’s restaurant in central London.

The singer said in his written evidence: “I understand that Mr Chokri says that I met him and spoke to him in 2011 at Jamal Edwards’ launch party for SBTV in London Bridge.

“I remember that party. It was at a branch of Nando’s restaurants… I do not remember meeting Mr Chokri.”

Discussing his use of technology, Sheeran later said he frequently abandoned email accounts to avoid being hacked and his music being leaked.

Previous email addresses used by Sheeran included references to The Simpsons, with his former accounts including everythingscomingupmilhouse@fastmail.com and theblurstoftimes@fastmail.com.

The trial before Mr Justice Zacaroli continues on Tuesday, with judgment expected to be reserved until a later date.

Updated: March 08, 2022, 10:37 AM