Ed Sheeran wins Shape of You copyright case - a ‘note’ of caution

Blog | Intellectual Property
Published: 7th April 2022
Area: Corporate & Commercial

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Ed Sheeran has had his day in the High Court and the judge has decided that his 2017 chart topper has not plagiarised the work of Sami Chokri.

Sheeran’s hit ‘Shape of You’ is one of the most played and downloaded songs of all time. It has been streamed more than three billion times on Spotify, and reputably generates over five million pounds per year from that platform alone. When a song is as successful as this, it becomes a tempting target for those who thinks they can rightfully claim a share of that success for themselves. If you have a legitimate case for copyright infringement, for the right song, pursuing a claim can be a very shrewd investment of time and legal fees. However, as we’ve seen here in the ruling, that investment is not without risk.

This High Court ruling may embolden artists to be more brazen in ‘taking inspiration’ from each other, without fearing the consequences of copyright infringement. While this makes the process of creating (and publishing) music easier, in some cases it might deprive smaller artists of income that should have gone to them.

It is rare for a copyright infringement case to get this far in court and it is a scenario that has plagued Sheeran before.  Often these cases reach an out of court settlement, as it’s usually a less expensive result for both parties. Clearly, in this instance, Chokri believed he had a strong case but unfortunately it wasn’t strong enough and he now faces a considerable legal bill.

This ruling indicates that the UK IP courts aren’t going to support US-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. 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.

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Isaac is a trainee solicitor working within the Intellectual Property team.

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