Ed Sheeran has told the High Court he does not “borrow” ideas from unknown songwriters without credit.
The singer-songwriter has been accused by two other songwriters of copying parts of his 2017 hit Shape Of You.
Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue’s barrister suggested Sheeran treated lesser-known songwriters differently from famous ones.
Sheeran denied this, telling the court he had cleared parts of songs with “lots” of unknown artists.
Shape of You was number one for 14 weeks in the UK in 2017, becoming the best-selling song of the year around the world.
Chokri and O’Donoghue claim the song’s “Oh I” hook is “strikingly similar” to part of their track Oh Why, which was released under the name Sami Switch in 2015.
On Friday, their barrister Andrew Sutcliffe QC claimed Sheeran “borrows ideas and throws them into his songs, sometimes he will acknowledge it but sometimes he won’t”.
Giving evidence on Monday, the singer gave several examples of times he had cleared parts of songs with little-known artists.
“If Mr Sutcliffe would have done his research”, he added, he would have known he had cleared parts of songs with “lots” of unknown composers.
Sheeran created Shape of You with co-writers Steve Mac – real name Steven McCutcheon – and Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid.
After its release, he added the team behind TLC’s 1999 single No Scrubs to the song’s writing credits after some commentators pointed out similarities.
On Monday, Mr Sutcliffe told the star: “The evidence is overwhelming that at the time of writing Shape of You, your songwriting process involved collecting ideas.”
Sheeran replied: “You say it’s overwhelming, I don’t agree with that.”
The singer also said he hadn’t been being aware of Chokri, a grime artist who performs under the name Sami Switch, before the song was written.
Mr Sutcliffe said Sheeran and Chokri had appeared in videos on late music entrepreneur Jamal Edwards’ YouTube channel SBTV around the same time, and that Edwards had tweeted about Sami Switch.
Sheeran responded that Edwards “championed lots and lots of artists” and “it wasn’t like I watched every single video he uploaded”.
He added: “I followed him on Twitter, it doesn’t mean I read everything he wrote.”
The musician told the court he quit social media in 2015, adding that for “the whole of 2016” he was “off” social media and was using a “flip phone from Tesco”.
In May 2018, Sheeran and his co-writers issued proceedings asking the High Court to declare they had not infringed Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright.
The pair then issued a counter claim for copyright infringement. The trial is expected to continue for about three weeks.
Dressed in a sharp black suit, Ed Sheeran is firm, determined and just a little bit irritated on the stand; as the prosecution deconstruct his songwriting process, looking for hints that he might take inspiration from outside sources.
He denies the prosecution’s claim that he is a “magpie” who lifts other people’s work without giving credit; pointing out that he has often shared credit with lesser known artists, including Shivers and Visiting Hours and a song that sampled an “unknown composer’s” work from Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
“All those examples are not famous artists that we’ve cleared songs with and that’s what I have to say on that,” he tells the court.
Sheeran testifies that he mostly works in collaboration with other writers, and that it’s often hard to identify who has written each individual part of a song once it’s finished.
Referencing his Shape Of You co-writer Johnny McDaid, he says: “My and Johnny’s writing partnership is very much like a game of tennis. He’ll say something and I’ll say something back. We’re quite quick when we go back and forth.”
Asked repeatedly whether he is responsible for chorus to his 2015 song Photograph, Sheeran replies tersely: “I honestly couldn’t tell you. I don’t know. We wrote the song together.” It’s a phrase he will return to several times throughout the morning’s questioning.
Photograph is relevant because it was the case of a separate copyright claim from Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard, who wrote Matt Cardle’s 2011 single Amazing. The duo were eventually given a share of the song’s royalties and a £4m lump sum in an out-of-court settlement.
Sheeran says he settled the claim because it was a “nuisance” and “more trouble than it was worth”. Asked why he would pay out such a “substantial” sum instead of taking the case to court, he says he did so on the advice of his lawyers.
Later, Sheeran is asked about his role as a talent-spotter, as the head of his own label Gingerbread Man Records. The insinuation is that he saw Sami Chokri’s song Oh Why on YouTube, then copied it for Shape Of You. He denies being aware of the song, saying he’d just signed Jamie Lawson to the label and “wasn’t looking for anyone else” to work with.
The court has just taken a break for lunch. Sheeran is expected to testify into the evening.