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Ed Sheeran branded "magpie" in court - the key talking points from the start of the singer's copyright trial

Ed Sheeran branded "magpie" in court - the key talking points from the start of the singer's copyright trial

LeeAnn Cline© Photo by LeeAnn Cline on Unsplash

It's the most played Spotify song ever; the only tune to get over three billion streams, and the tenth most successful song of all time, according to Billboard. But Ed Sheeran's 'Shape of You' is a rip-off, according to a British songwriting duo.

At the start of a three-week trial into copyright infringement from Sheeran, the UK High Court heard how the award-winning musician allegedly copied a refrain and melody from Oh Why, a song by Sami Chokri and Ross O'Donaghue. The pair haven't received any credit or compensation from Sheeran and are seeking substantial damages.

Here are key talking points from the opening of one of the biggest court cases in recent music history.

The prosecution accused Sheeran of being a 'magpie'

The songwriting abilities of Ed Sheeran are clearly phenomenal. The singer has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, with all his songs being self-written.

The prosecuting barrister Andrew Sutcliffe QC recognized this in his opening statement, referring to Sheeran as a 'genius'. However, he used another adjective that isn't quite as complimentary. Magpies are famous for their ability to steal precious objects, and this is what Sutcliffe suggests Sheeran did with the refrain and melody from Oh Why.

Yet precious isn't quite enough to cover it. Writing a song that generates the sales of Shape of You is like landing a lottery jackpot. Sheeran and his team would have been due to receive royalties of £20 million from the song but have been barred from doing so by the music licensing body PRS for music being due to the court case.

If Sheeran and his team do win the case, they'll receive a bigger jewel than any magpie could ever hope to find.

Costs are expected to reach £3 million between the two parties

With such an incredible amount of money at stake, it's no wonder that expenses are astronomical. Judge Francesca Kaye revealed that the two parties would "incur costs in the region of £3 million between them on this dispute."

The bulk of the costs will come from taking the case to the High Court, and the hiring of some of the top lawyers around. Prosecutor Sutcliffe has taken part in high-profile cases involving the President of Uzbekistan and Liverpool FC, to name just two, while Sheeran's attorney Ian Mill was involved in a dispute over the will of Nina Wang, Asia's richest woman at the time of her death.

As a multi-millionaire, Sheeran is much better placed to deal with the cost of losing the case, although Chokri and O'Donaghue have been assured that they have a very good chance of winning.

The trial is set to last three weeks

The complexity of this case has led to the High Court allocating a time of three weeks towards its resolution. It's highly unlikely that Sheeran and his accusers will attend for all the sessions, but they will be called upon to give key testimonies.

It comes at a bad time for Sheeran ahead of his UK and Ireland tour, which is due to start at the end of March. The case is likely to affect his preparation for the 49 shows he has scheduled across the British Isles.

Sheeran's defence team used a 'subconscious copying' argument

Central to Sheeran's defence is that neither he nor his co-writers, Steven McCutcheon and John McDaid, have any recollection of hearing Oh Why before the legal charge. They deny all allegations made against them.

In light of that, the defence team will argue that it's impossible for them all to copy the song 'subconsciously'. Therefore, it must be an original production.

They will also argue that Sheeran has credited other smaller artists before, so it makes little sense for him to ignore this policy for one song, if he had copied some aspects of it.

It's not the first time Sheeran has faced legal action

The Shape of You singer is no stranger to legal action. Back in 2016, Marvin Gaye's estate sued him over his song Thinking Out Loud, which it claimed sounded 'strikingly similar' to Gaye's Let's Get It On.

A four-year legal battle, involving three separate lawsuits, culminated in a judge dismissing Sheeran's appeal to dismiss the case against him. U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams in Manhattan gave the estate permission to sue for $100 million, although he put the case on hold saying that it overlapped with one of the other lawsuits.

The case has provoked scores of online content, including a YouTube video that plays the two songs together to underline how similar they are.

Although the Marvin Gaye case shouldn't have any impact on the current case in London, it will be interesting to see what US prosecutors think compared to their British counterparts.

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