15 March 2022

Ed Sheeran ‘target of concerted plan to promote artist accusing him of copying’

15 March 2022

Ed Sheeran was targeted with a “concerted plan” to secure his interest in a songwriter who later accused him of copying one of his songs, the High Court has been told.

The former management company for Sami Chokri, a grime artist who performs under the name Sami Switch, allegedly made a “huge effort” to bring the 2015 song Oh Why to the star’s notice.

One company director claimed in written evidence for a copyright trial in London that they felt “cheated” and “upset” by Mr Sheeran’s allegedly “blatant copying” of the song in his 2017 hit Shape Of You.

Mr Chokri and his co-writer Ross O’Donoghue claim that a central “Oh I” hook in Mr Sheeran’s song is “strikingly similar” to an “Oh Why” in their own composition.

Sami Chokri (Joshua Bratt/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Sheeran and his co-authors, producer Steven McCutcheon and Snow Patrol’s John McDaid, deny copying and say they do not remember hearing Oh Why before the legal fight.

Lawyers for Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue have alleged there is “clear, cogent and compelling” evidence that Oh Why was “widely available” and sent to a number of Mr Sheeran’s close friends and colleagues.

In written evidence, David May, managing director of Artists and Company (A&C), a firm that used to manage Mr Chokri, said that when Oh Why was being promoted the outfit had “a concerted plan to target Ed Sheeran in the hope of engaging his interest in Sami’s work”.

“We did not target any other artist in the same way,” he said.

Soon after the song was written the company “began to press harder as we thought we had a strong song and a body of work close to completion in the form of the EP Solace”, he added.

Mr May continued: “We felt that, if Ed Sheeran could see Sami’s work, he would recognise his talent.

“We saw this as a real possibility because of the connections that we had, and Sami had, to his circle.

“As in many other walks of life, who you know is as significant as what you know.

“We knew Ed Sheeran helped people with this and that he liked to collaborate with artists like Sami.”

We wanted to bombard as many people as possible to promote the song. It was a quality and quantity of people approach. It was a focus on raising awareness

He said people targeted in 2015 included late SBTV founder Jamal Edwards, Jake Roche of the band Rixton and senior people at Mr Sheeran’s publisher.

In written evidence, Mr Roche said he never listened to Oh Why, while Mr Edwards said he did not remember listening to the track.

Timothy Bowen, an A&C director, said in written evidence that after hearing Shape Of You in 2017 “we were surprised by what we thought was a blatant copying”.

“We were upset that Ed Sheeran had not asked for clearance to include the relevant part of Oh Why into Shape Of You,” he added.

“Having made a huge effort to bring Oh Why to Ed’s notice, the next thing we heard was a part of Oh Why appearing on Ed’s song, Shape Of You, without any acknowledgment or request for permission.”

He claimed Mr Sheeran’s publishing representatives gave “short shrift and refused to engage with us at all”.

He also alleged that efforts to get information over the creation of Shape Of You were not “forthcoming”, adding: “The more we tried to obtain this information – which should have been readily available – the more they told us to in effect ‘get lost’. The more they treated us this way the more cheated we felt.”

David Gibbs, another former director at A&C, said in written evidence that he was the “main person” responsible for making “as much noise as possible” about Oh Why.

“We wanted to bombard as many people as possible to promote the song. It was a quality and quantity of people approach. It was a focus on raising awareness,” he said.

Mr Gibbs claimed to have had “30 or more” meetings with record labels and publishers and used social media and emails to online blogs to promote the track.

He said there was a plan to “email and contact Ed Sheeran’s team, to target the relevant people and then introduce them to the music of Sami”.

“Throughout the campaign I remember creating mind maps on whiteboard paper and, typically, following a usual pattern, I would outline every single contact around Ed Sheeran who could be significant and then I worked out ways of getting to them,” he said.

Earlier in the trial, Mr Chokri disagreed with a suggestion by Ian Mill QC, representing the Shape Of You co-writers, that his management firm had “singularly failed” to develop his career after the release of Solace in June 2015.

Mr Sheeran has said he does not recall anyone sending Oh Why to him “in any way” before he wrote Shape Of You.

Mr Mill previously said that Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue’s claim that Mr Sheeran had “access” to their work was “at best, paper thin” and there was “clear evidence” that at the time Shape Of You was written its creators had not heard Oh Why.

The three Shape Of You 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.

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”.

The trial before Mr Justice Zacaroli continues, with judgment expected at a later date.

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