By Claudia Fennell ’24
In 2017, the now 31-year-old artist Ed Sheeran released one of his most famous songs to date: “Shape of You.” The track, a single off of his album Divide, was an instant hit on the charts. Indeed, “Shape of You” was the overall best-selling song in 2017 as well as the second-best selling song digitally worldwide that year. Additionally, the song was number one in the United States for 12 non-consecutive weeks, the fourth-most weeks a song has stayed on top of the charts in history.
Now, five years later, the remarkable song is making headlines for a more negative reason: musical artist Sam Chokri and his producer Ross O’Donoghue recently brought Sheeran to court, claiming the chorus of “Shape of You” is stolen from their song, “Oh Why.”
Chokri, who is more commonly known as Sami Switch, his stage name, is a popular Grime artist. Grime is a music genre that developed in London in the early 2000s that combines British rap and electronic music to create a style similar to hip hop. In 2015, two years before Sheeran’s “Shape of You” hit the airwaves, the artist released “Oh Why.” The chorus of the song repeats the phrase, “Oh why, oh why,” and the chorus of “Shape of You” repeats the phrase, “Oh I, Oh I” with a somewhat similar pronunciation. This commonality led Chokri to allege that Sheeran stole the phrase and file a suit against the famous singer-songwriter. Sheeran and his associates immediately denied the claims Chokri and his team put forth against them.
Chokri originally made these allegations of plagiarism against Sheeran in 2018, but the copyright lawsuit did not commence until last month on March 4. The trial took place at London’s high court and lasted eleven days. It consisted of testimony from both sides as well as outside testimony from professional forensic musicologists who analyzed “Oh Why” and “Shape of You” for similarities. Although the forensic musicologists at times disagreed on some small details, they agreed that the purported similarities between the two songs were “overstated.”
After taking all of the testimony and evidence presented into account, Justice Antony Zacaroli declared that Sheeran “neither deliberately nor subconsciously” copied Chokri’s 2015 song.
While Sheeran and his team were certainly pleased with the verdict in the trial, the artist soon took to Twitter to share his concerns about the implications of the case. In a video, he explained that while he felt vindicated post-trial, he remained concerned for the future of the songwriting industry. Sheeran emphasized that in his mind, today’s artists are far too eager to sue one another. He went on to elaborate that he sees a pattern of artists hoping to save or even make money by reaching a settlement rather than fighting against a perceived injustice by going to trial. Sheeran expressed, “I feel like claims like this are way too common now and [there has] 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.”
Although Sheeran will likely not be the last musician to face allegations of plagiarism, the artist’s dedication to using his platform to speak out against such allegations and their bearings on the music industry suggest that the artists of the future will be well-supported should they find themselves facing such allegations.