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Shape Of You song-theft court case concludes

By | Published on Wednesday 23 March 2022

Ed Sheeran

The ‘Shape Of You’ song-theft court case has now concluded with judge Antony Zacaroli busy considering whether or not Ed Sheeran is indeed a musical magpie and squirrel, who likes lifting elements of other people’s songs when making his music. Or, at least, who lifted a key line from the 2015 track ‘Oh Why’ when he wrote his 2017 hit ‘Shape Of You’.

Sami Chokri reckons that Sheeran got a copy of his track ‘Oh Why’ through mutual friends or industry connections and then, when the star and his songwriting pals got together in late 2016 to write ‘Shape Of You’, he either consciously or subconsciously utilised a key element of the earlier song within his hit.

But Sheeran and his collaborators deny having ever heard ‘Oh Why’ before writing ‘Shape Of You’. Meanwhile, they argue, the elements that are shared by the two songs are pretty commonplace in pop music, which means it’s not entirely unlikely that two separate songwriters would separately write songs that sound similar in that way.

This week legal reps for the two sides – Ian Mill for Sheeran et al and Andrew Sutcliffe for Chokri – delivered their closing arguments, honing in on the two key aspects of any song-theft case. First, are ‘Oh Why’ and ‘Shape Of You’ sufficiently similar to suggest copying and constitute copyright infringement? And second, did Sheeran hear ‘Oh Why’ before writing his song?

For Sutcliffe, of course, the answer to both those questions is “fuck yeah!”, to use the legal term. According to the BBC, in summing up he said that there was an “indisputable similarity between the works” and the chances that that had happened by coincidence were “minutely small”.

He also noted that ‘Shape Of You’ had been written incredibly fast, suggesting that Sheeran already had key elements in his mind before the songwriting session, having previously listened to ‘Oh Why’. As for Sheeran’s testimony in court, Sutcliffe said the star had been “inconsistent” and “evasive”.

Meanwhile the chances of Sheeran not being aware of his client and his music were “vanishingly small”, Sutcliffe argued, because they had both appeared on the SBTV YouTube channel from 2010, they had friends in common, and Chokri had tweeted his fellow musician and allegedly met him.

Therefore, Sutcliffe concluded, it was reasonable to assume that Sheeran had indeed heard ‘Oh Why’ before writing ‘Shape Of You’ and picked up the earlier track’s “extremely memorable” chorus.

Of course, the Sheeran side had already countered all those arguments during the court hearing itself and in Mill’s summing up.

As noted, they insist that the elements shared are by ‘Oh Why’ and ‘Shape Of You’ are commonplace in pop music. Meanwhile Sheeran wrote ‘Shape Of You’ super fast simply because he’s a genius.

Plus there’s no actual tangible evidence a copy of ‘Oh Why’ had been directly handed to Sheeran prior to the ‘Shape Of You’ songwriting sessions. And given how much music SBTV has championed over the years, Chokri appearing on that channel doesn’t automatically mean his music reached Sheeran’s ears.

In the US, cases like this usually go before a jury at first instance, but not in the UK, where it is up to Zacaroli to make a judgement and, potentially, set a precedent in UK copyright law regarding modern day song-theft claims of this kind. It remains to be seen if he goes more ‘Blurred Lines’ or ‘Stairway To Heaven’ in making that ruling.