British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran hummed and sang in court on Tuesday as he gave evidence in a copyright trial over his 2017 mega-hit “Shape Of You”.
The chart-topper is in a legal battle with grime artist Sami Chokri, who performs as Sami Switch, and music producer Ross O’Donoghue, who argue “Shape of You” infringes “particular lines and phrases” from their 2015 song “Oh Why”.
Chokri and O’Donoghue say the “Oh I” hook in “Shape Of You” is “strikingly similar” to the “Oh Why” hook in their song and that it was “extremely likely” Sheeran had previously heard their track. Sheeran and his co-writers have denied this.
On his second day of questioning by Chokri and O’Donoghue’s lawyer Andrew Sutcliffe, Sheeran repeatedly sang the “Oh I” hook. He also sang lines from songs including Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” in the same key to show how melodies can sound similar.
Asked several times about the similarities between the “Oh Why” and “Oh I” hooks, Sheeran repeatedly told the High Court in London: “They’re both pentatonic scales, and they both use vowels.”
Sutcliffe, who at Friday’s opening called Sheeran “a magpie”, questioned him extensively over his writing of the song in October 2016 with co-authors Steven McCutcheon and John McDaid, and the changes made as it was developed.
“If I had heard ‘Oh Why’ at the time and had referenced it, I would have taken steps to clear it,” Sheeran said in his witness statement.
The court was played recordings of Sheeran singing the hook in different pitches, called stacking.
“It sounds like you were singing ‘Oh Why’,” Sutcliffe told Sheeran, who replied: “I was singing ‘Oh I’.”
“The lyric is ‘Oh I, I’m in love with your body’. The lyric ‘Oh Why, I’m in love with your body’ does not make sense.”
Sheeran was also asked about his music tastes, which he said were varied, but he particularly liked UK grime and rap. He said he had “disappeared for the entire year” in 2016 and was not actively following the UK music scene.
“You’re an excessive music squirrel. You consume music voraciously,” Sutcliffe told Sheeran. “I am a music fan, I like music, I listen to music,” Sheeran replied.
On Monday, Sheeran said he had not been aware of Switch at the time he is accused of ripping off parts of “Oh Why”, and had never heard the song before the court case.
Sheeran became briefly irked when a short piece of his unreleased music was played. The court was told that the wrong folder on McCutcheon’s laptop had been accidentally opened.