Ed Sheeran won a copyright infringement case in the United Kingdom's High Court on April 6, 2022 over his 2017 song “Shape of You” which topped charts worldwide and currently stands as the most streamed song on Spotify. Sami Chokri, a.k.a. Sami Switch (Chokri) and his co-writer Ross O’Donoghue, had sued Sheeran and his co-writers, for plagiarism over alleged similarities between the two songs.
The matter dates to May 2018, when Chokri and co-writer O'Donoghue addressed the Performing Rights Society (PRS), a British music copyright collective that pays song royalties, that they should be credited as songwriters on “Shape of You.” As a result, PRS suspended payments to Sheeran for performances and broadcasts of the song. Sheeran, John McDaid of the band Snow Patrol, and Steven McCutcheon (co-writers of 'Shape of You') subsequently sought a declaration from a High Court in London to declare that they had not violated Chokri's copyright. Chokri and O'Donoghue responded with a counterclaim of copyright infringement.
Both parties submitted forensic musicologists' evidence to demonstrate the song's similarities and distinctions. Chokri alleged that Sheeran was a habitual plagiarist. Against that, Sheeran denied having met Chokri or copying the song. He even sang parts of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” to demonstrate that the disputed melody in “Shape of You” was common in pop music.
After considering all the submissions and contentions of all the parties during the 11-day trial in London, the Court relied on the precedent of Francis Day & Hunter v. Bron, 1963, to outline the elements that needed to be established in order to determine whether there was a copyright infringement; namely, a degree of familiarity with the work, the work's character and capacity to impress the mind, the work's objective similarity, the probability that it was a coincidence, the existence of other possible influences, and the defendant's testimony regarding the presence or otherwise of the work.
In his ruling, Justice Zacaroli held that while Chokri’s shock after hearing “Shape of You” was understandable, given the similarities between the two songs, such coincidences were not uncommon. The Court further held that even if Sheeran was looking for any inspiration for the track, Chokri’s track was “far from the obvious source.” Sheeran still has to face a pending trial in New York over another of his hits, “Thinking Out Loud,” as some of the owners of the rights to Marvin Gaye’s song “Let’s Get It On” have accused him of copying it.
Musicians have a long history of sampling other artists' work, in which segments of a song are included in a new composition developed for commercial interests. Additionally, whole songs have been re-recorded by other musicians, such as Jimi Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's 'All Along the Watchtower' or Jeff Buckley's interpretation of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah.' However, credit must be given, and appropriate licensing/permission sought from the original artist. Alternatively, the rights must be purchased from the proper copyright holder (s).


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