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 Sheeran’s notice, the copyright trial heard on Tuesday.
One company director claimed that they felt cheated and upset by Sheeran’s alleged “blatant copying” of the song in his 2017 hit Shape Of You.
Chokri and his co-writer, Ross O’Donoghue, claimed that a central “Oh I” hook in Sheeran’s song was “strikingly similar” to an “Oh why” in their own composition.
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 Chokri and O’Donoghue have alleged there is “clear, cogent and compelling” evidence that Oh Why was widely available and sent to a number of 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 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 added: “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.”
May said people targeted in 2015 included late SBTV founder Jamal Edwards, Jake Roche of the band Rixton and senior people at Sheeran’s publisher.
In written evidence, Roche said he never listened to Oh Why, while Edwards had said he did not remember listening to the track.
Timothy Bowen, an A&C director, said that after hearing Shape Of You in 2017 “we were surprised by what we thought was a blatant copying”.
He said: “We were upset that Ed Sheeran had not asked for clearance to include the relevant part of Oh Why into Shape Of You. 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 also claimed Sheeran’s publishing representatives gave “short shrift and refused to engage with us at all”.
Earlier in the trial, 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 his EP, Solace, in June 2015.
Sheeran has said he does not recall anyone sending Oh Why to him “in any way” before he wrote Shape Of You.
Mill previously said that Chokri and O’Donoghue’s claim that 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 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.
The three co-authors launched legal proceedings in May 2018, asking the High Court to declare they had not infringed Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright.
Chokri and O’Donoghue then 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.