14 August 2020CopyrightMuireann Bolger

Taylor Swift tries again to shake off copyright infringement suit

Taylor Swift has taken action to explain why her lyrics did not infringe the copyright of a previous song in new legal papers filed at the  United States Court for the Central District of California on August 11.

In October 2019, the  US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit revived a  copyright lawsuit against Swift over her 2014 hit song “Shake it off”. Back  in 2017, songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler sued Swift, claiming that the “Player’s gonna play, play, play, play, play/And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate” refrain in “Shake It off” was derived from their 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play”.

They claimed that Swift’s song copies lyrics and has a substantially similar sequence, resulting in the infringed copyrighted material accounting for roughly 20% of “Shake it Off”. Hall and Butler created the song “Playas Gon’ Play”, which was recorded by the girl group 3LW and released in May 2001.

The song stayed on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for weeks, peaking at Number 81.“Playas Gon’ Play” includes the phrase “Playas, they gonna play/And haters, they gonna hate”.

Swift was initially able to avoid the claims after a district court dismissed the suit on summary judgment. But last year, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court had inappropriately “constituted itself as the final judge of the worth of an expressive work”, enabling Hall and Butler to get another chance to argue their claims.

In her latest filing, Swift claimed that Hall and Butlers’ claim should be dismissed “because the unprotected ideas underlying the allegedly copied words merge with those words, rendering them unprotectable too”.

Swift stated that while Butler and Hall have alleged that  lyrics about heartbreakers breaking and fakers faking are also copied from their 2001, those exact words are not in “Shake it off” and that the only similarity between Taylor’s lyrics is the unprotectable idea that players play and haters hate.

She added that a further difference was that in the 2001 song, the singer tells her boyfriend that her friends do not like him and that they talk behind his back, but the singer assures him that despite what he may have heard from others, she trusts him and will stay true to him.

In “Shake It off”, however, Swift states to the world that she knows people have criticised her for supposedly staying out too late, not being smart, and going on too many dates, but she tells the world that she will “keep cruising” because she has “music in [her] mind” that tells her it will be alright.

According to Swift the two songs’ alleged uses of “players play” and “haters hate” are  different. She added that, “for works where there is a narrow range of available creative choices, the defendant’s work would necessarily have to be ‘virtually identical’ to the plaintiff’s work in order to be substantially similar”.

“Shake It off’ was the lead single from Swift’s critically acclaimed album  1989 and debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video for “Shake It off” was also hugely successful,  earning more than 2.8 billion YouTube views to date.

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More on this story

14 February 2018   The US District Court for the Central District of California has dismissed a copyright claim brought against singer Taylor Swift by songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler.
12 November 2015   A US court has dismissed a copyright claim filed against singer Taylor Swift that alleged her 2014 hit song “Shake it off” infringed a singer’s copyright, according to reports.