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Lawsuits & Litigation

Federal Judge Says Taylor Swift Can’t “Shake Off” Copyright Lawsuit

— December 10, 2021

While the judge said that Swift’s attorneys made a strong argument, he nonetheless believes a jury can still resolve the dispute.

A federal judge will allow a copyright infringement lawsuit which accuses Taylor Swift of stealing the lyrics to her 2014 hit “Shake It Off” to proceed to trial.

According to The New York Times, the lawsuit was field by Sean Hall and Nathan Butlers, who wrote the 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play” by 3LW.

And, on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald denied Swift’s request for a summary judgment—meaning that, unless Swift and the song-writers reach a settlement, the case will move to trial.

A trial, says the Times, would help decide whether similarities between the two songs—including phrases like “players gonna play” and “haters gonna hate”—are sufficient to mee the legal threshold for copyright infringement.

A pile of CDs or DVDs. Image via Flickr/user:mlange_b. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“[Swift] argue that even if there are protectable elements in ‘Playas,’ they are not substantially similar to those in ‘Shake’ (as a literary or as a musical work),” Fitzgerald’s wrote. “Plaintiffs argue that there are at least seven elements in the selection and arrangement of the four-part lyrical sequence at issue that the chorus of ‘Shake’ copies from ‘Playas,’ including, for example: 1) Shake’s combination of tautological phrases; 2) parallel lyrics; and 3) grammatical model ‘Xers gonna X.’”

Yet, in spite of his ruling, Judge Fitzgerald did admit that Swift’s legal team had made a “strong closing argument.”

However, Fitzgerald said they nonetheless failed to show that the issues in the case could not be resolved by a jury.

Attorney Marina Bogorad, representing both Hall and Butlers, told the New York Times that her clients are happy with Fitzgerald’s decision—in large because they feel it validates their claims of copyright infringement.

“Our clients are extremely satisfied with this decision, especially because it reinforces the notion that their unique self-expression based on the deeply rooted cultural be simply snatched away without proper attribution,” Bogorad said.

“We are pleased that the court refused to engage into a battle of the experts,” Bogorad added, “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.”

Fitzgerald, adds the Times, had earlier dismissed the copyright lawsuit. However, the case was reinstated on appeal and returned to the judge for the further consideration.

“In the early 2000s, popular culture was adequately suffused with the concepts of players and haters to render the phrases ‘playas … gonna play’ or ‘haters … gonna hate’ standing on their own, no more creative than ‘runners gonna run,’ ‘drummers gonna drum,’ or ‘swimmers gonna swim,’” Fitzgerald wrote in his 2018 dismissal.

Since then, Swift’s representatives have maintained that the case has less to do with copyright infringement than the plaintiffs’ own enrichment.

“These men are not the originators, or creators, of the common phrases ‘Players’ or ‘Haters’ or combinations of them,” a Swift representative told Rolling Stone shortly after the 2018 dismissal. “They did not invent these common phrases nor are they the first to use them in a song. We are confident the true writers of ‘Shake It Off’ will prevail again. Their claim is not a crusade for all creatives, it is a crusade for Mr. Hall’s bank account.”


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