A judge has ruled in Ed Sheeran’s favour in the plagiarism trial over his chart-topping hit Shape Of You.
The singer and his co-writers – Snow Patrol musician Johnny McDaid and music producer Steve McCutcheon – had been accused of ripping off the 2015 single Oh Why by Sam Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue.
However, in a ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Zacaroli said that the writers had neither “deliberately nor subconsciously” copied a section of Oh Why while creating Shape Of You.
In his ruling, Zacaroli said: “Listening to the sounds as a whole… the two phrases play very different roles in their respective songs.
“The OW Hook (in Oh Why) is the central part of the song and reflects the song’s slow, brooding and questioning mood.
“Without diminishing its importance, the OI Phrase (in Shape of You) plays a very different role – something catchy to fill the bar before each repeated phrase ‘I’m in love with your body’.”
He added: “The use of the first four notes of the rising minor pentatonic scale for the melody is so short, simple, commonplace and obvious in the context of the rest of the song that it is not credible that Mr Sheeran sought out inspiration from other songs to come up with it.
“As to the combination of elements upon which the defendants rely, even if Mr Sheeran had gone looking for inspiration, then Oh Why is far from an obvious source, given the stark contrast between the dark mood created by the OW Hook in Oh Why and the upbeat, dance feel that Mr Sheeran was looking to create with Shape.”
Following the ruling, Ed and his co-writers issued a joint statement, in which they spoke of the “pain” of having their integrity called into question.
“There was a lot of talk throughout this case about cost. But there is more than just a financial cost,” they said.
“There is a cost on creativity. When we are tangled up in law suits, we are not making music or playing shows.
“There is 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.”
They continued: “We are not corporations. We are not entities. We are human beings. We are songwriters. We do not want to diminish the hurt and pain anyone has suffered through this, and at the same time, we feel it is important to acknowledge that we too have had our own hurts and life struggles throughout the course of this process.
“There is an impact on both us and the wider circle of songwriters everywhere. Our hope in having gone through all of this, is that it shows that there is a need for a safe space for all songwriters to be creative, and free to express their hearts. That is why we all got into this in the first place. Everyone should be able to freely express themselves in music, in art and do so fearlessly.
“At the same time, we believe that there should be due process for legitimate and warranted copyright protection. However, that is not the same as having a culture where unwarranted claims are easily brought. This is not constructive or conducive to a culture of creativity.”
The trio added that they were “grateful” for the outcome of the case, reiterating that they “did not copy the defendants’ songs”.
“We respect the music of those who’ve come before us and have inspired us along the way, whoever they are,” they added. “We have always sought to clear or to acknowledge our influences and collaborators. It doesn’t matter how successful something appears to be, we still respect it.
“It is so painful to hear someone publicly, and aggressively, challenge your integrity. It is so painful to have to defend yourself against accusations that you have done something that you haven’t done and would never do.
“We are very grateful for all the messages of love, hope and support we received throughout the course of this case from songwriters everywhere. Thank you also to our publishers, who stood shoulder to shoulder with us at every step of the way. We are privileged to do what we do, and we know that. We want to live in a world where we are free to do what we do, openly and honorably.
“While this has been one of the most difficult things we have ever been through in our professional lives, we will continue to stand up against baseless claims, and protect our rights and the integrity of our musical creativity, so we that can continue to make music, always.
“Our message to songwriters everywhere is: Please support each other. Be kind to one another. Let’s continue to cultivate a spirit of community and creativity.”
The singer then shared an additional statement on the matter in a video posted on his Instagram page:
Ed and his co-authors originally launched legal proceedings in May 2018, asking the High Court to declare they had not infringed Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright.
Two months later, Chokri – a grime artist who performs under the name Sami Switch – and O’Donoghue issued their own claim for “copyright infringement, damages and an account of profits in relation to the alleged infringement”.
The pair alleged that an “Oh I” hook in Shape Of You is “strikingly similar” to an “Oh Why” refrain in their own track.
During the 11-day trial at the Rolls Building in London, Ed denied he “borrows” ideas from unknown songwriters without acknowledgement and insisted he “always tried to be completely fair” in crediting people who contribute to his albums.