You’ve probably seen the news:
Ed Sheeran outside the court after his court case victory
Ed Sheeran just won a copyright infringement lawsuit over his hit ‘Shape of You’, which was a massive worldwide hit in 2017. It topped the charts in many countries around the world including Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the USA, where it was on the charts for over a year - twelve weeks of which were at #1.
Ed Sheeran wrote the song with John McDaid and Steven McCutcheon - a good illustration that even the best songwriters collaborate these days!
The Complaint and Ed Sheeran's reaction
UK grime artist Sami Chokri (who performs as Sami Switch) and his co-writer Ross O'Donoghue made a complaint about Shape Of You’s "Oh I" hook being very similar to his 2015 track ‘Oh Why’ that contained a refrain that they alleged had been copied, either deliberately or subconsciously, by Sheeran, McDaid, and McCutcheon on Shape Of You.
Chokri and O’Donahue initially lodged a claim with the UK’s Performing Rights Society (PRS) to credit them as co-writers. This resulted in millions of dollars worth of songwriting royalty payments being blocked until the situation was cleared up.
Sheeran strongly denied that he had copied 'Oh Why'. In fact the court case itself was actually brought by Sheeran, McDaid, and McCutcheon in 2018 in an attempt to get a judge to pre-emptively rule that they created the song without ever having heard ‘Oh Why’.
Listen and judge for yourself:
The Court Case
During the recent 11 day trial in London, it transpired that in several other instances, Sheeran shared royalties with writers who ‘inspired’ him during songs, precisely in order to defend himself against accusations of plagiarism. In particular, he revealed that even on 'Shape of You', some of the profits went to the writers of TLC's ‘No Scrubs’.
These practices of collaborations and crediting inspirations and samples has lead to the average number of writers for a top 40 hit has been climbing steadily over the past years - in the early 1980's it was fewer than 2, in 2018 it was over 9!
In order for copyright infringement to be proved, Chokri needed to prove that Sheeran had listened to his song - otherwise the similarities would just be coincidence.
During the trial Sheeran even sang to the judge - Nina Simone's ‘Feeling Good’ and Blackstreet's ‘No Diggity’ alongside some of his own material - to attempt to prove the melody he was accused of stealing was commonplace in pop music.
After an 11 day trial in London, England in March 2022 the judge ultimately ruled in Sheeran, McDaid, and McCutcheon’s favor. Chokri and O’Donohue's legal team failed to establish that any of Sheeran, McDaid, and McCutcheon had ever heard ‘Oh Why’ prior to writing 'Shape Of You'.
What Can You Learn From This?
Whilst this was a music copyright case between songwriters, the trial illustrates just how much more complex an area songwriting copyright is than master rights (the recording of the artist performing the song), due to the multiple songwriters whose permission is each needed to use their song in performance sports, fitness, and marching in the form of a license.
Even if just one of the writers doesn’t agree, the song can’t be used. This applies even to covers of the song.
Its vital that you are aware of songwriters rights when you use music in your routine.
The good news is that ClicknClear’s technology automates all the checking needed, so you can be sure that everyone, the recording artist and all 9 songwriters on average, has agreed to your license and is being fairly remunerated for your use of their song!