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Ed Sheeran wins “Shape of You” copyright legal case

In this Chambers Legal Topics article, the Chambers UK Bar team discuss and analyse the result of the copyright infringement claims made against musician Ed Sheeran.

Published on 29 April 2022
Written by Cavan Ferguson
Cavan Ferguson

The high court copyright battle

The writers of Ed Sheeran's chart-topping song "Shape of You" have been granted a declaration of non-infringement of copyright following a two-week trial in which a High Court judge ruled Ed Sheeran did not plagiarise the song "Oh Why" by Sami Chokri.

In 2018, Ed Sheeran issued proceedings against Sami Chokri, seeking a declaration that Shape of You did not infringe Chokri's copyright.

Chokri then counterclaimed alleging copyright infringement. The allegation relates to the phrase in Shape of You: "Oh I" and its similarity with the hook "Oh Why" in Chokri's song. It was suggested by Sami Chokri's legal team that Ed Sheeran copied certain notes when writing the lyrics to his pop hit.

In order to prove that similarities in the songs were not a coincidence, it was necessary to show that Sheeran had listened to Chokri's song before penning Shape of You. 

The judge's conclusion

The judge rejected the claim, saying that Ed Sheeran did not deliberately copy the "Oh I" Phrase from the "Oh Why" Hook.

Concluding, the judge stated: "The evidence relating to access by Mr Sheeran to Oh Why provides no more than a speculative foundation for Mr Sheeran having heard Oh Why." Indeed, the judge was also satisfied that Mr Sheeran had not subconsciously copied Oh Why when writing Shape of You.  

Commentators have pointed to the significance of the ruling and its potential to dissuade artists from bringing legal claims in the future. However, given the size of the music industry and volume of content being produced, it is likely we will continue to see headline grabbing infringement cases of this nature. 

Which of the UK's top media barristers were on show?

Acting for the claimants and instructed by Bray & Krais were Ian Mill KC, Blackstone Chambers, Jessie Bowhill, 8 New Square and Rayan Fakhoury, Blackstone Chambers.

For the defendants, Keystone Law instructed Andrew Sutcliffe KC and Tom Rainsbury, both of 3 Verulam Buildings, to argue the case before Mr Justice Zacaroli.  

These are well respected individuals in the media & entertainment and intellectual property spheres, many of whom feature in the Chambers UK Bar rankings.

Lead counsel for the claimant, Ian Mill KC was recently elevated to star individual for media & entertainment in the 2022 Chambers UK Bar Guide. Lead counsel for the defendant, Andrew Sutcliffe KC, is ranked in the same section.   

The full list of Chambers recommended sets and barristers for Media & Entertainment can be found here.

Likewise, the list of recommended intellectual property barristers in London can be found here.

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