On 6 April 2022, Mr. Justice Antony Zacaroli – sitting in the High Court – delivered a judgment (Sheeran v Chokri  EWHC 827 (Ch)), declaring that Sheeran did not copy 'Oh Why'. In this piece, we are assessing the unusual case brought by Ed Sheeran against Sami Switch for declaration of non-infringement of copyright.
Background of the case
Edward Sheeran, popularly known as Ed Sheeran, is an English singer-songwriter born in West Yorkshire, England. Ed has been involved with singing and producing a few of the most popular songs in the past decade, songs like “The A-team” for which he won the award for the Best British Male Solo Artist at the Brit Awards “Perfect”, “Thinking Out Loud”, earned him the 2016 Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. His most popular track has been “Shape of You” released on 6th January 2017 on YouTube and has amassed over 5.6 bn views as of 08 th April 2022. However, with hit singles comes hard-hitting accusations alleging plagiarism and copyright infringement.
In 2018 Sami Chokri (who performs under the alias “Sami Switch”) alleged that the ‘Oh I’ phrase in ‘Shape of You’ was copied from the ‘Oh Why’ hook in his 2015 song. Sheeran brought a claim against Sami Switch in May 2018, seeking a declaration of non-infringement of copyright.
On 6 April 2022, Mr. Justice Antony Zacaroli – sitting in the High Court – delivered a judgment (Sheeran v Chokri  EWHC 827 (Ch)), declaring that Sheeran did not copy ‘Oh Why’. In this the piece, we are assessing the unusual case brought by Ed Sheeran against Sami Switch for declaration of non-infringement of copyright.
CASE ANALYSIS: Why did Ed Sheeran issue proceedings against Chokri to seek declaratory relief of non-infringement of copyright?
The Performing Rights Society also known as the “PRS” has over 160,000 members, which includes musicians, producers, and writers. The PRS manages royalty payments for its members when the work is performed, broadcasted, etc. Rule 8 of the PRS rules and regulations specifically states that “any dispute regarding the ownership of the copyright in musical works, the PRS can suspend the payment of any royalties until that dispute has been resolved. In early 2018, Chokri complained to the PRS that Ed Sheeran’s single, “Shape of You” is infringing Chokri’s song “Oh Why” and resulting this led PRS to cancel the royalty payments to Ed Sheeran, costing him millions of dollars since the song was an instant hit and has amassed a billion views till date.
It is very evident from the steps taken by Ed Sheeran and his legal representatives that the reason for seeking declaratory relief was to clear his name. Until yesterday the royalties were suspended for four years and which cost him more than 2 million dollars. Although it is not about the money since Ed Sheeran’s net worth is around £150 million but the major issue here is concerning the label and the publishing companies.
It may not have affected Ed Sheeran’s financial prowess, but looking at a bigger picture here it is important to understand that instead of Ed if there was a new upcoming artist who is solely dependent on streaming and broadcasting to earn royalties, which eventually ends up creating a source of income for the musicians, the judgment would have been different. Due to the scarcity of applicable case laws in the UK with respect to copyright infringement, this has become a case of paramount importance and garnered credibility. Importantly, the evidence presented by Sheeran showing his creative process, voice memos, and other audio files, has alerted the industry in a certain way, because now the songwriting and recording process can be understood be to clearly documented and admissible in a court of law.