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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Ed Sheeran described as music 'magpie' as he defends copyright infringement claim

Ed Sheeran described as music 'magpie' as he defends copyright infringement claim


Andrew Sutcliffe QC has suggested Sheeran 'borrows ideas' from other artists

A copyright infringement trial involving international music superstar Ed Sheeran continues at the High Court this week. Sheeran has vehemently denied his 2017 hit song ‘Shape of You’ copies the hook from ‘Oh Why’, a song written in 2015 by grime artist Sami Chokri and co-writer Ross O’Donoghue.

Legal proceedings in relation to the matter began in 2018 after Sheeran sought a declaration from the High Court that Sheeran and his co-writers had not infringed Chokri and Donoghue’s copyright.

Chorki – who performs under the name Sami Switch – and O’Donoghue subsequently issued a claim for copyright infringement, damages and an account of profits.

Sheeran is represented by Blackstone Chambers’ Ian Mill QC, described in Chambers and Partners UK guide 2020 as “a class act” and “terrifying to be against”. Chokri and O’Donoghue are represented by 3VB’s Andrew Sutcliffe QC, who has been described as “absolutely charming” but “more than capable of putting the boot in when necessary”.

Sheeran has reportedly been irritable at times in court this week, particularly after a clip of his unreleased music was mistakenly played in court. Sheeran demanded to know how his opponent’s lawyers had obtained the clip and they admitted the wrong folder had been accessed on the personal laptop of Sheeran’s co-writer, Steve Mac.

Sheeran was described as a “magpie” by Sutcliffe, who claimed he “borrows ideas” from other musicians; however, he acknowledged this does not mean Sheeran copied the song. It was also insinuated that Sheeran only credits well-known artists – an allegation denied by Sheeran.

Howard Ricklow, partner and media and entertainment lawyer at the law firm Collyer Bristow, commented: “The allegations in the High Court suggest that while Sheeran is ready to acknowledge that he has ‘borrowed’ from other writers’ songs, he only does so when they are known writers and not where he considers them too small to worry about. He has apparently already given credits to the writers of ‘No Scrubs’ in respect of the same song.

“It is important to stress that copyright infringement cases are determined not only on the basis that the two songs may be similar but whether the defendant to the claim has actually copied the original song.

“If the defendant has come up with the song quite independently of the claimant’s song, then there will be no copying. With rapid instant communication where singer songwriters can hear multitudinous tracks from all over it would be very difficult for Sheeran to say they had not heard the song that they are alleged to have infringed, which Sheeran did claim in an earlier infringement case involving the song ‘Amazing’.

“In the absence of evidence, certainly in the UK – the position is different in the US where there is a jury in such cases – the judge will be left to conclude on the balance of probability, whether Sheeran copied the song in question or composed his song independently.”

The trial is expected to last three weeks, with costs reportedly estimated to reach £3m.