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Musical “magpie” Ed Sheeran in court over Shape Of You song theft claims

By | Published on Monday 7 March 2022

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran is a musical “genius” but also a musical “magpie” who borrows from other people’s work when he’s writing his pop songs. Sometimes he borrows from the work of superstars, who get their credits. Other times he borrows from lesser known artists, who do not. Or at least, that’s what lawyers working for musicians Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue claimed in the UK high court on Friday.

This particular song theft battle is the one over Sheeran’s song ‘Shape Of You’ which – Chokri and O’Donoghue argue – rips off an earlier song their wrote called ‘Oh Why’.

In this particular dispute, Sheeran actually went legal first after Chokri and O’Donoghue’s claims of song theft led to royalties due through the collective licensing system being put on hold. Chokri and O’Donoghue then filed their own counterclaim for copyright infringement.

As this case has been working its way through the motions there has been plenty of discussion as to whether the Chokri and O’Donoghue side can bring up in court the various other times that Sheeran has been accused of borrowing elements from other songs.

That includes other alleged song thieving that has resulted in legal action – the ongoing US case over ‘Thinking Out Loud’ being the highest profile – but also times where Sheeran’s people have quietly settled with those who believe their work has been infringed.

In terms of the latter, one such settlement relates to ‘Shape Of You’, with the writers of TLC’s 1999 hit ‘No Scrubs’ previously getting themselves songwriting credits on Sheeran’s 2017 track.

As the UK court case got underway on Friday, according to Law360, Chokri and O’Donoghue’s legal rep Andrew Sutcliffe said this dispute centres on Sheeran’s creative process and whether the star “makes things up as he goes along” or if – in fact – “the process in truth is more nuanced and less spontaneous than this”.

“Ed Sheeran is undeniably very talented”, Sutcliffe added. “He is a genius. But he is also a magpie. He borrows ideas and throws them into his songs. Sometimes he acknowledges this, and sometimes he won’t”.

The lawyer then noted the deal done with the ‘No Scrubs’ writers in relation to ‘Shape Of You’, before arguing that, with his clients, Sheeran and his ‘Shape Of You’ co-writers weren’t as willing to acknowledge what they had borrowed from ‘Oh Why’ because Chokri and O’Donoghue aren’t famous enough.

“If they had been Shaggy, Coldplay, Rihanna or Jay-Z they would have been treated differently”, he argued, before citing a letter from Sheeran’s lawyers that specifically noted the difference in status between their client and Chokri and O’Donoghue.

As for how Sheeran and his ‘Shape Of You’ collaborators would have heard ‘Oh Why’ after its release in 2015, Chokri and O’Donoghue say that they sent copies to the star’s team and close friends. As a result, Sutcliffe said, Sheeran “is extremely likely to have heard it at some stage – even if he does not recall”.

The song theft case is expected to run for about three weeks.