Ed Sheeran has told the High Court he is there to “clear my name” and denied starting legal action to intimidate two songwriters who allege he has ripped off part of their work.
Sheeran was in court to give evidence for a second day as part of a legal battle with Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue, who accuse him of copying parts of their track Oh Why in his 2017 hit Shape Of You.
During the day’s session, there was confusion as part of an unreleased song by the star was accidentally played in court.
Questioning the singer later on, Andrew Sutcliffe QC, representing Chokri and O’Donoghue, asked how he would feel if someone used one of his hooks in their songs.
Sheeran replied to say it had “happened on plenty of occasions” and that usually he does not “do anything” about it, before adding: “I’ve never sued anyone.”
Mr Sutcliffe reminded the court that Sheeran issued proceedings against Chokri in 2018.
Sheeran replied: “I’m trying to clear my name here… You guys were the ones that brought this case in the first place.”
Speaking about his Shape Of You co-writers Johnny McDaid and Steve McCutcheon, he added: “We’re just trying to defend ourselves.”
When did the legal row start?
Sheeran and his co-authors launched legal proceedings in May 2018, asking the High Court to declare they had not infringed Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright.
In July 2018, Chokri and O’Donoghue issued their own claim for “copyright infringement, damages and an account of profits in relation to the alleged infringement”.
Questioning Sheeran, Mr Sutcliffe put it to the star that he and his co-writers initially began legal action against Chokri and O’Donoghue in order to put them off claiming due to the potential large legal costs.
The barrister called this a “SLAPP suit” (a strategic lawsuit against public participation), which Sheeran denied, again saying: “Me, Johnny and Steve are here to clear our name, and that’s it.”
Sheeran ‘proved wrong’ by Shape Of You
During his evidence, Sheeran told the court that he had initially not been a big fan of Shape Of You as he felt it “stuck out like a sore thumb” on his third album, Divide, and was not overjoyed when he was told it would be a first single.
However, he admitted he was “proved wrong” when it became a global hit.
Mr Sutcliffe put it to him that it was possible he had come across Mr Chokri’s song before writing Shape Of You, but could not remember hearing it.
Sheeran said this was not the case. Mr Sutcliffe went on to tell the court that “there is a middle ground between stealing and coincidence”.
Earlier in the day, the barrister described the star as an “obsessive music squirrel”. This was in the morning session, before a clip from Sheeran’s unreleased song was mistakenly played to the court.
‘How have you got that?’
The singer looked confused when a short blast of music was heard in the hearing.
Glancing at his lawyers, Sheeran said: “That’s a song I wrote last January. How have you got that?”
Following a break, Ian Mill QC, representing the star, explained that the incident happened “by mistake” through the use of songwriter Steve Mac’s computer and his iTunes which “contains some unreleased material”.
He said there had been an apology, adding: “I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
During the proceedings, Sheeran frequently burst into song and hummed musical scales and melodies as he was questioned over the writing of Shape Of You.
The song was written at Mac’s Rokstone Studios in west London’s Parsons Green in October 2016.
Similarities to the 1996 hit No Diggity by Blackstreet and the 1999 song No Scrubs by TLC were also discussed in court.
Chokri and O’Donoghue allege that Shape Of You infringes “particular lines and phrases” of their song Oh Why.
But Sheeran’s lawyers have told the High Court the singer and his co-writers have no recollection of having heard Oh Why before the legal fight and deny allegations of copying.
The trial before Mr Justice Zacaroli, which is expected to last three weeks in total, continues.