Taylor Swift Sued for “Shake It Off” Lyrics

Forbes reported that songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler have filed a suit against Taylor Swift for a lyric similarity. Hall and Butler claim Swift’s song “Shake It Off” bears a close resemblance to their 2001 hit “Playas Gon’ Play,” performed by 3LW. The claim targets Swift and her co-writers, Max Martin and Shellback, Sony/ATV and Universal Music Group, and asks for 20% of “Shake It Off” songwriting credit and all pertinent royalties.

While the songs don’t sound at all similar, the disagreement stems from the phrase “The playas gon’ play/Them haters gonna hate,” which are the lyrics in the chorus in Hall and Butler’s song “Playas Gon’ Play.” The writers claim that Swift copied that phrase with her lyrics “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

The Plaintiffs stated in the complaint, “The combination of playas/players playing along with hatas/haters hating may seem like common parlance today, however, in 2001 it was completely original and unique.” The complaint goes on to claim that these specific lyrics align, and the overall structure of the chorus is the same, following a four-part lyrical sequence that lists four types of people, swapping out “callers” and “ballers” for “heartbreakers” and “fakers.”

It is difficult to attach any copyright claims to common phrases, words and titles. It is trite law that courts do not allow such claims. However, if the Plaintiffs could convince the court that their phrases were “completely original and unique” at the time “Playas Gon’ Play” were written, the court may actually entertain the claim.

If the court accepts that the phrases were original and unique and should be protected by copyright, then it will be quite tricky to rebut the Plaintiffs’ assertions because Taylor Swift will have to submit materials which are not protected by copyright at the time that her song “Shake It Off” were written.

Taylor Swift had won a similar case in 2015, brought by Jesse Braham who claimed the hook of “Shake It Off” was taken from his song “Haters Gone Hate”, which was published in 2013, a year before “Shake It Off”. His case was dismissed on the grounds that copyright laws do not protect short phrases like that, especially when they aren’t original.

Given there is a court precedent on similar facts, it would definitely be an uphill task for Sean Hall and Nathan Butler to prove that the phrases “The playas gon’ play/Them haters gonna hate,” should be protected by copyright.