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Song-theft dispute over Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You set for 2022 court hearing

By | Published on Thursday 29 October 2020

Ed Sheeran

Disappointed that the big court hearing relating to the copyright dispute between Ed Sheeran and the Ed Townsend estate – originally due to take place in a New York next month – has been postponed into 2021 because of COVID? Worry not, we have an update for you from an entirely different Ed Sheeran copyright dispute, this one being fought out in the London courts. Although the full court hearing on this dispute isn’t scheduled to take place until 2022.

The dispute in the London courts relates to Sheeran’s 2017 hit ‘Shape Of You’. On that song, he is accused of ripping off an earlier track by Sami Chokri – aka Sami Switch – called ‘Oh Why’. Sheeran went legal in 2018 after the dispute with Chokri resulted in ‘Shape Of You’ royalties collected via the collective licensing system being put on hold, and the lawsuit has been slowly working its way through the courts ever since.

Last year there was an interesting side debate over whether or not the Chokri side could present as evidence various other occasions when Sheeran and his songwriting pals have been accused of lifting elements of other songs, basically in a bid to show that the Sheeran team are prone to plagiarise when creating new music.

That related less to other legal battles involving Sheeran – like the aforementioned dispute with the Townsend estate, which claims Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ rips off Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On, which Townsend co-wrote – and more with song-theft claims that the Sheeran team have quietly settled. For example, when the writers of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ were given songwriting credits on a Sheeran song that seemed to borrow from the earlier hit. That song being ‘Shape Of You’.

The latest side debate in the ongoing litigation was much more tedious. Basically it related to requests the Chokri side had made for information about the writing and recording of ‘Shape Of You’, and allegations that the Sheeran side had failed to respond to those requests in a timely or appropriate manner. Were the requests the Chokri side made relevant to the case? And did Sheeran’s lawyers follow due process when pushing back against those requests?

The judge overseeing the case ultimately concluded that the Sheeran side’s response to the Chokri side’s requests was “plainly inadequate”. However, he also concluded that it would be unfair to penalise Sheeran in the case for his legal team’s procedural errors.

And so the case continues. And, despite the judge’s very long discussion about the requests for information made by Team Chokri and the resulting response from Team Sheeran (and the COVID-based excuses that came up along the way), what most people have honed in on in the latest court papers for this case is the January 2022 date that’s been set for a full trial.

Oh, and the £3 million that the two sides reckon they’ll have spent on legal costs by the time that court hearing is done and dusted. Proving, once again, that when it comes to copyright disputes, it’s always the lawyers who win.