Musician who claims Shape of You ripped off his song tells court he feels 'robbed' by Ed Sheeran

Songwriter Sami Chokri arrives at court for the copyright trial. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Songwriter Sami Chokri feels “robbed” by Ed Sheeran after the pop star allegedly ripped off one of his songs in the 2017 hit Shape of You, the High Court has heard.

The grime artist said his legal row with the singer-writer was “one of the most horrible weeks of my life” during a hearing in London on Monday.

Mr Chokri, who performs under the name Sami Switch, claims Shape Of You infringes “particular lines and phrases” of his 2015 track, Oh Why.

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

Ed Sheeran outside the Rolls Building, High Court in central London. Credit: Joshua Bratt/PA

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

In his written evidence, Mr Chokri said he was left “shocked” when he first heard Shape of You on the radio, adding he had previously tried to get Mr Sheeran to listen to his music because he was “inspired by his success and stardom”.

Under cross examination from Ian Mill QC, representing the Shape of You co-writers, Mr Chokri told Monday’s hearing that he believed Mr Sheeran had heard Oh Why “through the many points of access that me and my team have shared”.

Asked why he believed it, Mr Chokri said it was because of the alleged “similarities” between the songs, “the things that we shared” and “the closeness in our circles musically”.

Mr Mill questioned why he did not contact Mr Sheeran directly about his music, with Mr Chokri replying that it would have come across as “trying too hard” and “kind of needy”.

“There is no targeting of Mr Sheeran, no plan that was exacted to get the song to Mr Sheeran, was there?” Mr Mill suggested.

“It was my management,” Mr Chokri replied.

He later added: “I feel like I’ve been robbed by someone I respect, or respected … This is years of a cloud over my head.”

Facing repeated questions about bringing his case, Mr Chokri continued: “All I heard and read was emails back belittling me”, adding, “all I wanted to do was ask if there was an explanation.

“If I had one then we wouldn’t have to go through this rubbish.”

He later added he had a “bitter taste in my mouth” since Mr Sheeran allegedly “stole” part of his song.

Asked if he accepted Mr Sheeran’s explanation in the case, Mr Chokri said: “Unfortunately I don’t”.

He added: “I’m not sure if he lied or doesn’t remember.”

“I didn’t want to put anyone through this. This has been the most horrible week of my life,” Mr Chokri said.

During Monday’s hearing, Mr Chokri, from Reading, said his Solace EP, which featured Oh Why, was written when he was “having a bit of a difficult period of time”.

He said: “Making music at that time felt like solace, comfort in my pain.”

He described writing Oh Why as “therapeutic” and “a perfect way to kind of scream at the world how I felt at that time”.

Mr Chokri rejected Mr Mill’s suggestion that the song was inspired by Mr Sheeran’s cover of Johnny Cash’s song Wayfaring Stranger and disagreed that “the best way” for him to get his music to the star was to “write a song which was obviously influenced by Mr Sheeran’s writing style”.

Mr Mill alleged there was a “flagrant” breach of copyright over the Oh Why video, with news footage taken from broadcasters including CNN, the BBC and Sky News.

He also told the court that some 20 lines of the lyrics of Oh Why reference a speech from Charlie Chaplin’s film the Great Dictator that Mr Chokri did not seek clearance over.

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Mr Chokri told the court that he had been “naive” at that stage of his career and if he had a label or a team around him someone would have advised him.

Asked by his own lawyer Andre Sutcliffe QC what he would have done if contacted about an alleged Charlie Chaplin infringement, Mr Chokri said he would have spoken to his management.

Mr Chokri disagreed with Mr Mill’s suggestion that his management firm had “singularly failed” to develop his career after the release of Solace in June 2015.

"I thought he would be accessible because we have friends in common ... and I knew he was into my style of music."

The court heard that Mr Chokri registered Oh Why with PRS for Music – the industry body that collects and distributes royalties – only in 2017.

Mr Chokri said: “My main focus for this EP was to get my name out there, like a mix tape … I didn’t think about money at all.”

Mr Mill suggested that “the reason you registered then was because you had in mind the claim about copyright infringement”.

The court has previously heard that PRS for Music has suspended certain payments to Sheeran and his co-writers for the performances or broadcasts of Shape Of You.

Mr Chokri said he knew about the suspension but “didn’t know that signing up to PRS was for that purpose”.

In his written evidence, Mr Chokri said both he and Sheeran had worked with the late SBTV founder Jamal Edwards and had both recorded at Sticky Studios, adding that he had also discussed getting the EP to people with connections to Sheeran.

He continued: “I thought he would be accessible because we have friends in common … and I knew he was into my style of music.”

Mr Sheeran said he does not remember meeting Mr Chokri nor hearing Oh Why.

He and his 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 continues, with a judgment expected at a later date.