Ed Sheeran and two songwriting partners were handed more than £900,000 in legal costs after winning a High Court copyright case over accusations that he ripped off other artists for his 2017 hit Shape of You.
Sheeran was involved in the 11-day trial with two songwriters Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue who claimed that he was a “music magpie”, stealing parts of their song Oh Why.
Shape of You is the most-streamed song of all time on Spotify, with more than three billion plays.
The implication was that the pop star credited larger artists, like Jay-Z or Taylor Swift, but failed to recognise smaller artists, such as Chokri and O’Donoghue. Meanwhile, Sheeran claimed he had never heard the song Oh Why before the case.
Sheeran told the court that he rejected the claim that he “borrows ideas and throws them into his songs, sometimes he will acknowledge it but sometimes he won’t”.
While Chokri and O’Donoghue said the three wealthy songwriters should foot their own legal bill after losing the case, a judge awarded Sheeran and co-writers an interim payment of £916,200 this afternoon.
Mr Justice Zacaroli said in his ruling today: “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.”
Commenting on the ruling at the time, Isaac Murdy, intellectual property specialist at Shakespeare Martineau, said: “This ruling indicates that the UK IP courts aren’t going to support American-style speculative litigation. It will take more than a short section of ‘basic minor pentatonic pattern’ which is ‘entirely commonplace’, to establish a successful claim of copyright infringement.
“All music is derivative to a certain extent, and in the words of Elvis Costello ‘It’s how rock & roll works’. This ruling shows that clear similarities throughout two songs are needed to form a substantial case.”
“Copyright is designed to encourage creativity by rewarding original creators, and this case shows how the law attempts to balance the rights of creators at every stage in a song’s development.”
Following his win, Sheeran said in a video posted on Twitter: “I feel like claims like this are way too common now and it has become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that settlement will be cheaper than taking it to court even if there’s no basis for the claim”.
Ian Mill QC, representing Sheeran, said the case had been “traumatising” for the artist.