Taylor Swift will face a jury trial over accusations that she plagiarised the lyrics for ‘Shake It Off’ from another track.
Back in 2017, songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler claimed that Swift copied lines from the pair’s 2001 song ‘Playas Gon’ Play’, which they wrote for the girl band 3LW.
The case concerns the chorus of Swift’s 2014 single, in which she sings, “‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play” and “haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate“. In contrast, ‘Playas Gon’ Play’ goes: “Playas, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate.”
The lawsuit was dismissed in February 2018, with a judge saying that the lyrics were too “banal” to be copyrighted. However, the decision was subsequently overturned by an appeals court in October 2019.
Then, in September 2020, a Los Angeles judge confirmed that the case would go ahead.
LA judge Michael Fitzgerald said that Hall and Butler had “sufficiently alleged a protectable selection and arrangement or a sequence of creative expression” and that the relevant parts of ‘Shake It Off’ the pair identified were “similar enough” to ‘Playas Gon’ Play’ for a court case to proceed.
As the BBC reports, Swift requested a summary judgment – an immediate ruling that she had not infringed copyright – but yesterday (December 9) Fitzgerald refused.
“Even though there are some noticeable differences between the works, there are also significant similarities in word usage and sequence/structure,” he wrote.
“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.”
A date for the trial is yet to be confirmed.
Hall and Butler’s lawyers said the court “did the right thing” although Swift is yet to comment.
Representatives for the star previously said they considered “players gonna play” and “haters gonna hate” as “public domain cliches”. “These men are not the originators, or creators, of the common phrases ‘Players’ or ‘Haters’ or combinations of them,” a member of her team wrote.
Fitzgerald echoed this view upon dismissing the case in 2018, explaining: “[B]y 2001, American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters. … The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.”
He added: “The allegedly infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection.”
Elsewhere, Swift’s reps claimed: “[Hall and Butler] 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.”