On April 6, pop-sensation Ed Sheeran and his co-writers, John McDaid and Steven McCutcheon won their legal battle against Sami Chokri, who performs under the name of Sami Switch. The victory comes after arduous litigation where Sami Chokri accused Sheeran of copying the chorus in Chokri’s song “Oh Why”.
The copyright claims waged against Sheeran, McDavid and McCutcheon were in relation to the “Oh I” hook in Sheeran’s 2017 hit, ‘Shape of You’. Chokri claimed the hook was ‘strikingly similar’ to the “Oh Why” refrain in his own track.
The positive judgment will come as a relief to Sheeran and his ‘Shape of You’ co-writers who pre-emptively sued Chokri and his co-writer Ross Donoghue to clear his name in 2018. The accusation, they say, has stifled their creativity and mental health.
In a joint statement after the judgment, the group noted that there was ‘more than just a financial cost. There is cost on creativity. When we are tangled up in lawsuits, we are not making music or playing shows.’
They added, ‘there is [also] a cost on our mental health. The stress this causes on all sides is immense. It affects so many aspects of our everyday lives and the lives of our families and friends. We are not corporations. We are not entities. We are human beings.’
When giving evidence in trial, Sheeran denied borrowing any ideas from Chokri or deliberately copying another’s work without giving them appropriate credit. On the stand, Sheeran noted that he has always shared royalties with song writers who have inspired him in his song-writing process. He told the Court that even a portion of the ‘Shape of You’ profits went to the writers of TLC’s No Scrubs.
Sheeran later sung Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and Blackstreet’s No Diggity to demonstrate that the hook he was accused of copying, was a typical melody in popular music. The co-writers later added that there is a finite number of notes and chords in pop music, as such these “baseless” claims are seriously damaging to the songwriting industry.
In the end, the High Court Justice Antony Zacaroli ruled that the Shape of You co-writers had ‘neither deliberately nor subconsciously copied’ of Chokri’s song “Oh Why”. Justice Zacaroli conceded similarities between a one-bar phrase, however ‘such similarities are only a starting point for a possible infringement’ of copyright. Evidently, it was considered that of the available 12 notes, it is ‘coincidence is bound to happen’ that songs share similar hooks or melodies.
For copyright infringement to be awarded to Chokri and Donoghue, they were required to establish that Sheeran has listened to his song, ‘otherwise the similarities would just be a coincidence.’ However in this case, Justice Zacaroli noted that there was only a “speculative foundation” for the Chokri’s case that Sheeran had heard Chokri’s song before writing Shape of You. It was subsequently found ‘…as a matter of fact, that [Sheeran] had not heard it’.
Music copyright claims are an all-too-common feature of the modern music industry and do not discriminate against high-profile artists. Just this year, English singer-songwriter Dua Lipa had two copyright infringement claims made against a song on her latest album “Future Nostalgia”. The song in question, “Levitating” featuring DaBaby has faced copyright accusations from the band Artikal Sound System and songwriters L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer. Jem Aswad suggests that it has become apparent in recent years that, ‘if a song’s a hit, the copyright infringement lawsuits follow.’
If you would like to read more about this matter, we have another blog posted which details Sheeran’s case. It is available at: https://sanickilawyers.com.au/top-songwriters-face-the-music/
If you would like legal advice in relation to a suspected copyright infringement or general music and entertainment advice, visit our website sanickilawyers.com.au or call us on (03) 9510 9888.