Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has won a copyright case over his 2017 hit song Shape of You. Sami Chokri, who performs under the name Sami Switch, claimed that the repeated “Oh I” hook in Sheeran’s song was copied from the “Oh why” hook in Chokri’s 2015 song Oh Why.

Sheeran began the claim in 2018 seeking a declaration that he and his fellow songwriters had not infringed copyright, after Chokri and his co-writer,Ross O’Donoghue,asked the Performing Rights Society (PRS) to add them to the hit’s credits as co-writers. This caused PRS to suspend all royalty payments relating to the song.

A High Court judge found that Sheeran had not copied from Chokri either deliberately or subconsciouslyand had not even heard his song. Musicology experts gave contrasting views during the trial, but the judge was clear that Sheeran had not copied the work. Although there are similarities between the “Oh Why”hook and the “Oh I”phrase, the judge also noted significant differences. The evidence that Sheeran had ever heardOh Why was no more than speculative. In any event, the judge closely analysed the elements of the song and the writing processand decided that the evidence that the “Oh I” refrain originated from sources other than Oh Why was “compelling”.

The judge rejected the suggestion that the fast speed at which Sheeran wrote songs is any indication of copying.Listening to the sounds as a whole, he considered that the two phrases play very different roles in their respective songs.

For a UK court to find copyright infringement, two elements must be present: first there must be sufficient objective similarity between the infringing work and the earlier copyright work (or a substantial part thereof), for the former to be properly described as a reproduction or adaptation of the latter (but not necessarily identical with); secondly, the copyright work must be the source from which the infringing work is derived. Accordingly, even if the allegedlyinfringing work is inspired by the copyright work, there will be no liability for copyright infringement unless the result is close enough to the original, or a substantial part of it. Further, it cannot be an infringement, no matter how closely it resembles the original, if it was arrived at completely independently or derived from some quite independent source. In this case, the court found that the two works were not so close, and also that there was compelling evidence that Oh Why had not been the source of Sheeran’s inspiration.

Shape of You was the UK’s 2017’s best-selling song, and the most streamed song ever in the UK.In a video released after the judgment Sheeran said that such “baseless” claims are “way too common”.