A federal appeals court has revived a dismissed lawsuit alleging Taylor Swift ripped off the chorus to her single “Shake It Off” from two songwriters.
In 2018, songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler alleged that the chorus to “Shake If Off”, which saw Swift sing that “players gonna play, play, play, play, play” and “haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”, infringed on the copyright of a track they wrote for the defunct girl group 3LW in 2001.
“Playas Gon’ Play” by 3LW featured the lyrics “Playas, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate.”
Swift’s defence lawyers claimed that the concept of players playing and haters hating are “public domain cliches”, citing a number of tracks by artists including Fleetwood Mac and The Notorious B.I.G, who also used variations of the phrases.
“Plaintiffs’ claim to being the only ones in the world who can refer to players playing and haters hating is frivolous,” Swift’s lawyers said.
They continued: “There can be no copyright protection in ‘playas, they gonna play and haters, they gonna hate,’ because it would impermissibly monopolise the idea that players will play and haters will hate.”
Despite a district judge dismissing Hall and Butler’s lawsuit in February 2018, however, the case has now been revived by a federal appeals court, who have determined a jury should decide a verdict as opposed to a sole individual.
Citing a 1903 ruling by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, appeals court judges claimed it was “a dangerous undertaking for persons trained only to the law to constitute themselves final judges” of copyright claims, and that it should be the public who ultimately determine a verdict.
In a statement that directly rebuffs claims made by Hall, a representative for Swift said: ”Mr Hall is incorrect, the court did not unanimously side in their favour, the court sent the case back to the lower court for further determination. These men are not the originators, or creators, of the common phrases ‘Players’ or ‘Haters’ or combinations of them. 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.”