Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ Sued for Copyright Infringement
Taylor Swift is one of the most successful artists of the past fifteen years, and “Shake It Off” is one of her biggest hits. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that other artists would want part of that song’s success. Swift was sued for copyright infringement over “Shake It Off.” While the suit was initially dismissed, it has since been revived by a federal appeals court. Here are the details behind the case.
Why Taylor Swift is in legal trouble over ‘Shake It Off’
Rolling Stone reported that Sean Hall and Nathan Butler are the songwriters behind the 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play” by the R&B girl group 3LW. The song was a minor hit in the English-speaking world and includes the lyrics “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate.”
Anyone with a passing knowledge of Swift’s music will find these lyrics familiar, as the chorus of “Shake It Off” has the lyrics “’Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” Outside of those lyrics, the two songs are very different. “Playas Gon Play” is an early 2000s R&B song that’s highly reminiscent of songs by TLC, Mary J Blige, and Destiny’s Child. “Shake It Off,” on the other hand, is a dance-pop song built around horns.
This lawsuit was dismissed in 2018 by judge Michael Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald commented “by 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.”
The lawsuit returns
He added “The allegedly infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection. While the Court is extremely skeptical that Plaintiffs will — in a manner consistent with Rule 11 — be able to rehabilitate their copyright infringement claim in an amended complaint, out of an abundance of forbearance it will give Plaintiffs a single opportunity to try.”
Swift may not have been pleased with her music being called “banal” but she was probably happy that the lawsuit was dismissed. However, this is not the end of the story.
Judges John Owens, Andrew Hurwitz and Kenneth Lee reversed the decision, saying “originality, as we have long recognized, is normally a question of fact …By concluding that, ‘for such short phrases to be protected under the Copyright Act, they must be more creative than the lyrics at issues here,’ the district court constituted itself as the final judge of the worth of an expressive work. Because the absence of originality is not established either on the face of the complaint or through the judicially noticed matters, we reverse the district court’s dismissal.”
The case will be back in court sometime in the future. This reversal comes at a particularly litigious time in the music industry. In recent months, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Lil Nas X, and Cardi B have all been accused of plagiarism. All of these cases are still up in the air and music fans will just have to wait and see if their favorite stars have gotten into any legal trouble.