Ed Sheeran and his Shape Of You co-songwriters have been awarded more than £900,000 in legal fees after winning their copyright trial over “baseless” claims about the hit earlier this year.
Sheeran and two of his co-writers – Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid and producer Steve McCutcheon, known as Steve Mac – had been accused of plagiarising part of a track called Oh Why by Sami Chokri, a grime artist who performs as Sami Switch, and his co-writer Ross O’Donoghue.
But in April, following a High Court trial in March, the judge who heard the case ruled that the star “neither deliberately nor subconsciously” ripped off a hook from the song when writing the “Oh I” phrase for Shape Of You.
In the latest ruling, Mr Justice Zacaroli has now said the lesser-known songwriters should pay the legal costs for the case, ordering an interim payment of £916,200 – an amount which is expected to be assessed and finalised at a further hearing.
After Sheeran won the case, lawyers for Chokri and O’Donoghue argued that the star and the other claimants should pay their own legal costs, claiming they had failed to provide documents and demonstrated “awkwardness and opacity”.
However, making the order for costs on Tuesday, the judge said: “I consider it is appropriate that the claimants’ success is reflected in an order that their costs are paid by the defendants, without reduction save for that which is made as part of the process of detailed assessment.”
He also dismissed arguments that Chokri and O’Donoghue would have changed their approach to the case if some documents and explanations about how Shape Of You was written had been provided earlier.
“Instead, they not only maintained their attack on Mr Sheeran but broadened it by asserting that he was a ‘magpie’ who habitually misappropriated song ideas from other writers.”
Legal proceedings were initially launched by Sheeran, his co-authors and their music companies in May 2018, asking the High Court to declare they had not infringed Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright.
Chokri and O’Donoghue issued their own claim two months later, for “copyright infringement, damages and an account of profits in relation to the alleged infringement”.
However, after hearing the evidence in the trial, Mr Justice Zacaroli dismissed the counterclaim.
In a video statement released after the judgment was handed down, Sheeran told fans that “baseless” copyright claims were “damaging” to the songwriting industry.
“I’m not a corporation. I’m a human being,” he said. “I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m a son. Lawsuits are not a pleasant experience and I hope with this ruling, it means in the future baseless claims like this can be avoided.”
Shape Of You, from the star’s Divide album, is his biggest hit – with some 5.26 million chart sales (sales and streams combined) as of November 2021, according to Official Charts. It spent 13 consecutive weeks at number one in 2017 – the UK’s best-selling song of the year – and is the UK’s most-streamed song of all time.
Some £2.2m in royalties was frozen during the dispute, the High Court heard during the 11-day trial in central London.
The allegations against Sheeran and his co-writers
Chokri and O’Donoghue claimed the central “Oh I” hook in Shape Of You is “strikingly similar” to the “Oh Why” refrain in their own composition, with Chokri telling the court he felt “robbed” after he heard it.
However, Sheeran, McDaid and McCutcheon all denied being aware of Oh Why prior to writing Shape Of You.
During two days spent in the witness box giving evidence, Sheeran told the court he is not an artist who “alters” words and music belonging to others to “pass as original”, and refuted an allegation that he “borrows” ideas from unknown songwriters without acknowledgement.
He told the court he “always tried to be completely fair” in crediting people who contribute to his music. The star also denied using litigation to “intimidate” the less-famous songwriters, saying he was in court simply to “clear my name”.
What did the judge say?
Following the hearing, the judge concluded that while there are “similarities” between the OW (Oh Why) hook and the OI (Oh I) phrase, there are also “significant differences” and that “such similarities are, however, only a starting point for a possible infringement action”.
He also said that “compelling evidence” had been provided to show that Shape Of You “originated from sources other than ‘Oh Why'”, and that claims Sheeran had heard the song before writing his own were “no more” than “speculative”.