Ed Sheeran copyright case: Music experts disagree over ‘Shape Of You’ and ‘Oh Why’ similarities

London's High Court has heard opposing views from two musicologists as the copyright case continues

A musicology expert has told London’s High Court that Ed Sheeran‘s ‘Shape Of You’ is “coincidentally similar” and bears “distinctive differences” to the song the singer is accused of copying.

It’s alleged that Sheeran and two of his co-writers, Johnny McDaid and Steve Mac, lifted  “particular lines and phrases” for the 2017 ‘÷’ single from a track called ‘Oh Why’ by Sami Switch (real name Sam Chokri).

The latter artist and his co-writer Ross O’Donoghue claim that Sheeran took the “oh I, oh I, oh I, oh I” hook from the aforementioned song, which was released in 2015. Sheeran has “vehemently den[ied]” the accusation and rejected the suggestion that he heard ‘Oh Why’ before he wrote ‘Shape Of You’ in October 2016.

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McDaid, who is also a member of Snow Patrol, claimed in written evidence last week that he could not recall ever hearing ‘Oh Why’ “in any way” and said he was unaware of Sami Switch before the current legal case began.

Now, as Sky News reports, Anthony Ricigliano – a US forensic musicologist – concluded that it is “objectively unlikely” that any similarities between the two songs in question “result from copying”.

Ricigliano, who had been instructed by Sheeran’s lawyers, told the court during the ongoing copyright trial that he was “completely impartial” and said he believed the extent of the alleged similarities to be “overstated”.

“The overall design and musical development of the melodic, harmonic and lyrical content in the relevant phrase in ‘Shape Of You’ are distinctively different from that utilised in ‘Oh Why’,” Ricigliano explained in written evidence.

However, another musicology expert, Christian Siddell, said that he’d noticed melodic similarities “so numerous and striking that the possibility of independent creation is… highly improbable”.

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Earlier in the trial, Sheeran explained that both ‘Shape Of You’ and ‘Oh Why’ “are based around the minor pentatonic scale [and] they both have vowels in them”. But he denied that the “oh I” refrain came from listening to the chorus of Chokri’s track.

Siddell was instructed by Chokri and O’Donoghue’s lawyers, and said he thought there had been “overemphasis” in regards to the minor pentatonic scale: “The “oh I” and “oh why” phrases are melodies, not scales.”

He concluded by claiming that there are “striking and substantial similarities between certain aspects of the lead vocal melody of ‘Oh Why’ and ‘Shape Of You'”.

According to Siddell, the two parts are “nearly identical in respect of their rhythm and pitch”. He added that the similarities between the two releases were “unlikely to be the consequence of coincidence”.

McDaid said in his written evidence that the idea of plagiarism was “abhorrent” to him, but acknowledged there was “nothing original” about the ‘Shape Of You’ melody. “It is a very common melodic structure, in my experience,” he wrote.

Sam Chokri has since said that he felt “belittled” by Ed Sheeran’s lawyers. “I feel like I’ve been robbed by someone I respect, or respected,” he told the court.

“All I wanted to do was ask for an explanation. If I’d had one we wouldn’t have had to go through with this rubbish.”

Earlier this week, the High Court heard how Chokri’s former management company had allegedly made “a concerted plan to target Ed Sheeran in the hope of engaging his interest in Sami’s work”.

Royalties from ‘Shape Of You’, estimated to be worth £20million, have been frozen since Chokri and O’Donoghue issued a claim for “copyright infringement, damages and an account of profits in relation to the alleged infringement” in July 2018.

The case continues.

Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran has teased that he has a new “curveball” project coming soon. His latest studio album, ‘=’, came out last October.

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