Ed Sheeran and co-writers awarded £900,000 in costs over copyright case
Lesser-known songwriters ordered to pay legal costs after court rejected accusations Shape of You ripped off their song
Ed Sheeran and his co-songwriters have been awarded more than £900,000 in legal costs after winning their high court copyright trial over the hit Shape of You earlier this year.
At a trial in March, the singer and his co-writers Snow Patrol’s John McDaid and producer Steven McCutcheon faced accusations that their track ripped off a 2015 song by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue.
However, Mr Justice Zacaroli concluded Sheeran “neither deliberately nor subconsciously” copied a phrase in the song.
Sheeran, his co-authors and their music companies 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 had alleged that an “oh I” hook in Shape Of You was “strikingly similar” to an “oh why” refrain in their own track.
But in his previous judgment, Zacaroli concluded “Mr Sheeran had not heard Oh Why and in any event that he did not deliberately copy the ‘oh I’ phrase from the ‘oh why’ hook”.
He dismissed the counterclaim and granted a declaration to Sheeran and his fellow songwriters that they had not infringed the copyright in Oh Why.
After the ruling, lawyers for Chokri and O’Donoghue had said Sheeran and the other claimants should pay their own legal costs, claiming they had failed to provide documents and demonstrated “awkwardness and opacity”.
However, in a ruling on Tuesday, Zacaroli said that the lesser-known songwriters should pay the legal costs, ordering an interim payment of £916,200.
A further hearing is expected to assess and finalise the sums.
“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,” Zacaroli said.
The judge dismissed arguments that the defendants would have changed their approach to the case if some documents and explanations about how Shape of You was written had been provided earlier.
Zacaroli said: “None of the disclosure or explanations, once provided to the defendants, caused them to alter their approach at all.
“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.”
During the 11-day trial in central London, Sheeran denied he “borrows” ideas from unknown songwriters without acknowledgment and insisted he “always tried to be completely fair” in crediting people who contributed to his albums.
In a video message after the ruling in April, Sheeran said: “Claims like this are way too common now and have become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking it to court, even if there is no basis for the claim, and it’s really damaging to the songwriting industry.
“Lawsuits are not a pleasant experience and I hope with this ruling it means in the future baseless claims like this can be avoided. This really does have to end.”