Ed Sheeran has denied that he “borrows ideas” from other artists, only acknowledging their work if they are as famous as “Shaggy, Coldplay, Rihanna or Jay-Z”.
Songwriters Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue are pursuing a copyright case against the 31-year-old star, alleging his 2017 hit Shape Of You infringes “particular lines and phrases” of their 2015 song Oh Why.
The barrister for the pair, Andrew Sutcliffe QC, told the court: “Sometimes [Sheeran] will acknowledge it but sometimes he won’t”, going on to say that if Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue had been well-known artists “they would have been treated in a very different way”.
Sheeran attended the High Court on Friday, the first day of the trial, giving his first day of evidence on Monday.
Sheeran’s lawyer, Ian Mill QC, asked the singer if accusations of “borrowing ideas” was true. Sitting in the witness box wearing a dark suit and tie, Sheeran answered, “No.”
The singer said he had previously cleared permission to use parts of songs from “lots” of unknown artists, giving the example of a sample he had used from part of a track by an unknown composer on the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
A prolific writer, Sheeran also said he had once written 25 songs in one week.
As for the speed of his composing, he told the court: “Almost all of my songs are written in under two hours,” adding “if I haven’t written a song within two hours, I see it as a failure”.
The court also heard part of Sheeran’s song Eraser, which the singer said took him just half an hour to write.
Speaking about the pressure to create catchy rhythmic tunes, Sheeran said his record label frequently pushed him to produce more hits, asking “for two massive hits” per album.
Speaking under cross-examination, Sheeran denied being aware of Mr Chokri – who performed under the name Sami Switch – or his work.
He rejected suggestions he may have seen tweets from Mr Chokri, who he followed on Twitter, or given him “a shout-out on stage”. Sheeran said he doesn’t do shout-outs, as he would “feel bad” if he forgot.
He was also asked about videos uploaded by the late SBTV founder Jamal Edwards and tweets Edwards posted referencing Sami Switch.
Sheeran told the court that Edwards – whom Sheeran has called his “best friend” and credited with kick-starting his own career – “championed lots and lots of artists” and that “it wasn’t like I watched every single video he uploaded”.
He also denied that Edwards would have shared Chokri’s 2015 song Oh Why with him at any point.
When asked by the prosecution whether he was “talent spotting” and “plugged in” to the UK music scene in 2015, Sheeran said he wasn’t.
He also said that he had “quit” social media in late 2015, staying “off” social media for “the whole of 2016” and was using a “flip phone from Tesco”.
For that reason, he said it was unlikely he would have seen various songs and video releases and a tweet featuring Sami Switch in 2015 and 2016.
In one of five witness statement, Sheeran said he did not recall meeting Mr Chokri in 2011 at a launch party for SBTV at a Nandos restaurant in London Bridge.
A previous US copyright claim over Sheeran’s hit song Photograph was also discussed.
The copyright claim involving the song Amazing – sung by former X Factor winner Matt Cardle in 2012 – was settled for more than $5m.
Sheeran said that case had left him feeling “bruised” and “with a very bad feeling”. He said he had settled on the advice of his lawyers.
In the current case, Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue argue that a central “Oh I” hook in Shape Of You is “strikingly similar” to an “Oh Why” refrain in their song.
However, Sheeran told the court he was “surprised” the claim has been pursued, saying the part of Shape Of You involved in the case is “very short” and “consists of nothing more than a basic minor pentatonic pattern which is sung using the words ‘Oh I'”.
In his written evidence, Sheeren said: “Both are, in my view, entirely commonplace. Even so, if I had heard Oh Why at the time and had referenced it, I would have taken steps to clear it.”
He said he has “always tried to be completely fair in crediting anyone who makes any contribution to any song I write”, and that he was “scrupulous in giving credit”.
Sheeran’s lawyers have told the High Court that the singer and his co-writers, Steven McCutcheon and John McDaid, have no recollection of having heard the song Oh Why before the legal fight and deny the allegations of copying.
Sheeran and his co-authors launched legal proceedings in May 2018, asking the High Court to declare they had not infringed Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue’s copyright.
However, in July 2018, Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue issued their own claim for “copyright infringement, damages and an account of profits in relation to the alleged infringement”.
Sheeran is due to continue his evidence on Tuesday, with the trial scheduled to last three weeks.
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