Written by Nicole Syradd.
The High Court has recently found in favour of the artist Ed Sheeran in a copyright infringement case, Sheeran and Others v Chokri and Others  EWHC 827 (Ch), surrounding his well-known song, ‘Shape of You’.
Ed Sheeran released ‘Shape of You’ in 2017, which quickly became a hit in the UK charts becoming Spotify’s most-streamed song. However, Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue alleged that the 2017 song was ‘strikingly similar’ to Chokri’s own song, ‘Oh Why’, which was released in 2015.
Whilst Mr Justice Zacaroli appreciated that there was a similarity in a single ‘one-bar phrase’, it was not substantial enough to support Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright counter-claim that Sheeran copied their song ‘deliberately and consciously’. Zacaroli J held that there were a number of differences between the two musical works, including the quaver, tone, harmonies and tunes, which amounted to enough evidence that Sheeran did not infringe the copyright of Chokri and O’Donoghue. There was nothing original in the repetition of the words ‘Oh Why’ by Chokri and ‘Oh I’ by Sheeran and the similar bars were not original but instead commonly used in pop music. There was no evidence that Sheeran had listened to ‘Oh Why’ and, therefore, the similarities were coincidence. Zacaroli J held that Sheeran was justified to assume that Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright claim was simply to achieve a settlement.
Copyright prevents third parties from using the creator’s work without first obtaining their consent. Copyright protection is obtained automatically once the work has been materialised and, unlike other intellectual property protections, no application is required.
Copyright protection applies to different works produced by the creator, including:
Sound and music recordings, such as in the case of ‘Shape of You’;
Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work;
Original non-literary written work, such as web content and databases;
Television and film recordings;
Layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works.
Unfortunately, unlike trademarks and patents, there is no copyright register in the UK, so it can be difficult to check whether any copyright has been infringed.
Copyright can be infringed where a third party copies all or substantial parts of the creator’s work without permission. Examples of infringement include:
Copying lyrics or musical components of a song;
Providing, whether for a fee or free, the copyrighted works to the public;
Using slogans, mottos or other copyrighted wording without acknowledgement;
Using photographs and images in newspapers or other media without giving credit to the owner;
Supplying architectural designs for a property development to a third party without permission of the architect.
This case demonstrates the importance of copyright protection, but also the standard the court will consider when deciding whether an infringement has occurred.
For further information and details about the judgment, please visit: https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/ed-sheeran-v-sami-chokri/
If you need advice regarding potential copyright infringement or you would like to know more about how you can protect your intellectual property, please contact Jamie Berry, Partner and Head of Business Law.