Singer-songwriter Johnny McDaid has described the idea of plagiarising other people’s work as “abhorrent” as he appeared in court for a copyright dispute over a song he penned with Ed Sheeran.
The Snow Patrol band member said he “wholeheartedly” disagreed with an apparent implication he was “a habitual infringer of other people’s copyrights” in a written witness statement for a trial centred on the creation of Mr Sheeran's hit song, Shape Of You.
Mr McDaid claimed to have suggested the words “shape of you” for the track because he was “sensitive to objectification” and not keen on the phrase “in love with your body” – words that ended up in its lyrics anyway.
Shape Of You’s co-authors – Mr McDaid, Mr Sheeran and producer Steven McCutcheon – are all involved in a legal row with two songwriters, Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue, who claim it rips off parts of their 2015 track Oh Why – something they deny.
Mr McDaid, who is godfather to Mr Sheeran’s daughter, began giving evidence in a High Court trial in central London on Wednesday.
In his written evidence, he recalled the creation of Shape Of You at the studio of Mr McCutcheon – known as Steve Mac – in October 2016 as a “frenetic, rapid process” with all three co-writers “suggesting ideas for melody and lyrics”.
“The words ‘shape of you’ came from me,” the Northern Ireland-born singer-songwriter said, adding: “It is a phrase used in Derry, where I come from. I am sensitive to objectification and I was not keen on ‘in love with your body’, so I suggested the more abstract ‘shape of you’, although both appear in the song in its finished form.”
Mr McDaid said work on the song was completed in “a couple of hours or so”, noting that Mr Sheeran was “the fastest and most prolific songwriter I have ever worked with”.
The court has previously been told that an initial reference to the TLC song No Scrubs in Shape Of You was changed during its creation, with Mr Sheeran explaining in his written evidence that “because we had already gone half-way down the road of clearing the use, we ended up having to give the rights holders in No Scrubs a percentage of Shape Of You anyway”.
In his written statement, Mr McDaid said he was “not privy to the specifics of the change or the clearance”.
The court has also previously heard that Mr Sheeran and Mr McDaid settled a copyright claim in the United States in 2017 over their song Photograph for more than five million dollars.
They were accused of copying from a track called Amazing, co-written by Tom Leonard and Martin Harrington, which was released in 2012 by former X Factor winner Matt Cardle.
Mr McDaid said in his written evidence that Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue were trying to allege that the TLC clearance and Photograph case “suggest that I was in the habit of consciously or sub-consciously appropriating the skill and labour of other songwriters during my songwriting and recording sessions”.
He continued: “This seems to imply that I did so without seeking permission and therefore that I am a habitual infringer of other people’s copyrights.
“I wholeheartedly disagree with this implication. It is simply not true and I feel that is a very serious thing to suggest about me and how I work.”
Mr McDaid added: “I do not need or want to, nor would I ever, plagiarise other people’s work. The idea is abhorrent to me.”
In court on Wednesday, during questioning from Mr Chokri and Mr O’Donoghue’s lawyer Andrew Sutcliffe QC, Mr McDaid emphasised he only paid a “proportion” of the 5.4 million US dollars (£4 million) paid out in the settlement – a sum he claimed to have first heard about “this week”.
He said the settlement was reached following legal advice, noting that at the time there was “a culture” of being brought in front of American jury trials which “really wasn’t going favourably for songwriters at all”.
He noted in his written evidence that “we ended up settling the case for commercial reasons”, including “the cost and time involved in fighting the case, together with the reputational damage which was already being done by a PR campaign which was being conducted by the other side”.
“It was not settled because we believed that we had copied Amazing in any way,” he said.
Mr Chokri, a grime artist who performs under the name Sami Switch, and Mr O’Donoghue, claim that a central “Oh I” hook in Shape Of You is “strikingly similar” to an “Oh Why” refrain in their own composition.
Mr McDaid said in his written evidence that he does not recall ever hearing Oh Why “in any way at all” nor was he aware of Sami Switch before the legal dispute.
He said he did not create the “Oh I” phrase in Shape of You and could not remember the moment it was created.
The court heard that Mr McDaid and Mr Sheeran are “very close”, have matching tattoos, and had written “hundreds” of songs together.
Legal proceedings were launched by Mr Sheeran and his co-writers in May 2018, with them 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.