Partner Paddy Gardiner comments in The Times on Ed Sheeran’s recent High Court success over Shape of You copyright lawsuit
Paddy’s comments were published in The Times on 14 April 2022, and can be found here.
In a recent High Court ruling, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was cleared of a copyright infringement claim over his 2017 hit Shape of You, which was alleged to be based on Oh Why by Sami Chokri.
Responding to the ruling, Paddy Gardiner, Head of Disputes at Simkins, reflected on whether the High Court’s decision may alter the landscape of music disputes in the future.
Paddy commented: "Ed Sheeran has faced – and been advised to settle – copyright claims in the past, and perhaps because of this and his global success there may be a sense that he is an easy target. However, he and his co-writers have been vindicated by their decision to stand up to this claim. The defendants’ tactic of freezing millions in performance royalties, which the Judge found was “designed to extract a settlement”, did not work here. Instead of settling, Sheeran sued for a declaration that he had not copied “Oh Why”: this was high stakes as the same tactic backfired for Pharrell Williams on the “Blurred Lines” case - he and his co-writers ended up facing a $5.3m judgment from Marvin Gaye’s family.
"These cases always turn on the evidence and Sheeran’s team was able to produce recordings documenting the genesis of “Shape of You” which persuaded the Judge that no copying had taken place. Sheeran has revealed that he now routinely videos songwriting sessions to protect himself against future claims. No doubt other songwriters are taking note of this and also Sheeran’s decision to take on this fight and win, which may make others think twice in future about bringing claims against him.
"Despite all the press interest, there is nothing new about the issues decided in this case. The Judge applied long-established legal principles to determine whether there had been copying. The huge sums at stake in these claims, coupled with an imperfect legal system, may encourage spurious claims – some of these should never get to trial, leading to vast legal costs incurred on each side.
“Overall, however, the system of copyright protection in this country strikes a balance between protecting the rights of creators, whilst not stifling the creativity of others. Developing technologies and platforms open up new avenues for potential infringements, but the tech giants have a responsibility to moderate that activity – they will come under increasing pressure from rights owners to ensure that their interests are protected and fairly remunerated.”