Taylor Swift Headed for Copyright Trial Over 2014 Hit “Shake It Off”

Dan Clarendon - Author
By

Dec. 13 2021, Published 6:06 a.m. ET

Pop star Taylor Swift can’t shake off a lawsuit over her 2014 hit, “Shake It Off.” In an update to the legal case, a federal judge declared on Dec. 9 that Swift must face a jury trial in the copyright-infringement case brought on by songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler. As Billboard reports, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald refused the singer’s request to dismiss the plaintiffs’ accusations that “Shake It Off” infringed on the 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play” by 3LW.

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In his ruling, Fitzgerald acknowledged “some noticeable differences” between the two songs but said there were “enough objective similarities amongst the works to imply that the Court cannot presently determine that no reasonable juror could find substantial similarity of lyrical phrasing, word arrangement, or poetic structure between the two works.”

At issue are similar lyrics about players and haters

shake it off music video
Source: YouTube

“Shake It Off,” one of the singles off 1989, Swift’s fifth studio album, hit the airwaves in Aug. 2014. With 50 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, including four weeks at No. 1, the song is tied with “You Belong With Me” as Swift’s longest-charting single. The track also earned three Grammy Award nominations, for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance.

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In Sept. 2017, Hall and Butler, the songwriters behind “Playas Gon’ Play,” filed a suit against Swift, pointing out similarities between the two songs. In the chorus of 3LW’s song, the girl group sings “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate.” And in Swift’s song, she sings, “‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

The same judge previously dismissed the lawsuit

Fitzgerald dismissed the lawsuit in 2018, deciding that the 3LW lyrics were merely “short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection,” and he offered 13 other songs with similar lyrics. (Biggie Smalls’ “Playa Hater” and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Man U Luv to Hate,” for starters.)

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After a federal appeals court reversed that ruling, however, the case returned to Fitzgerald’s docket. And on Dec. 9, Fitzgerald denied Swift’s motion for a summary judgment that there was no copyright infringement. “Although Defendants’ experts strongly refute the implication that there are substantial similarities, the Court is not inclined to overly credit their opinions here,” the judge wrote.

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The plaintiffs’ attorney said that “justice should serve the merits rather than deep pockets.”

Marina Bogorad, Hall and Butler’s attorney, told BuzzFeed News in a statement that the duo was “extremely satisfied” with the ruling. “It reinforces the notion that their unique self-expression based on the deeply rooted cultural heritage cannot be simply snatched away without proper attribution,” Bogorad added.

“We are pleased that the court refused to engage into a battle of the experts, especially given that defendants’ resources vastly outweigh those of our clients here, and it is about time that justice should serve the merits rather than deep pockets.”

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As of the time of this writing, representatives for Swift have not commented on the Dec. 9 decision. A rep for the singer did, however, respond to the 2019 reversal.

“These men are not the originators, or creators, of the common phrases ‘players’ or ‘haters’ or combinations of them,” the rep said at the time, reports The Guardian. “They did not invent these common phrases, nor are they the first to use them in a song. … [Hall and Butler’s] claim is not a crusade for all creatives, it is a crusade for Mr. Hall’s bank account.”

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