Can Taylor Swift Shake This Off?

Look at what Taylor Swift made 3LW’s songwriters do. In 2014, Taylor Swift released the hit single “Shake It Off” on her 1989 album. The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart as number one. In 2015, “Shake It Off” was recognized at the People’s Choice Awards as Favorite Song. It also received several nominations at the Grammy Awards. 3LW’s co-song writers, Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, wrote “Playas Gon’ Play” in 2001. They are suing Swift for infringing on their copyrighted lyrics.

In a similar lawsuit, Swift previously defeated Jesse Braham over these same lyrics. Braham claimed his song “Haters Gone Hate” sounded familiar to “Shake It Off” and that Swift copied the hook from his song to incorporate it into hers. U.S. Magistrate Judge Gail Standish dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Recently, a California federal judge has been asked to consider if Swift’s “Shake It Off” lyrics infringe on 3LW’s “Playas Gon’ Play” lyrics. The reason this lawsuit is brought in federal court is because copyright law is regulated by federal law. The 1976 Copyright Act abolished common law copyright and provided that federal law preempts state law. Therefore, making state law to have no significant role in copyright law.

The law provides in order for a work to be copyrighted the following must apply; The work must be original, an expression of an author, a non-utilitarian nature and must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The duration of copyright lasts a lifetime plus seventy years. When a copyrighted work is copied in part or in full, the owner of the copyright has standing to bring a cause of action for copyright infringement.

The lyrics that are in dispute are “playas, they gonna play and haters, they gonna hate” versus “the players gonna play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate hate.”

The plaintiffs wrote the first set of lyrics in 2001 and claim they were responsible for popularizing the universal phrase and sequencing of players and hating. They argue a custom standard industry practice is to clear use of copyright work with owners even if the work is not repeated verbatim. With this notice, the copyright owners can permit or prohibit their work from being re-distributed in a different manner from its origins. Further, they contend that the defendants’ use of this phrase is what is at issue here and the combination of ‘players hating’ has not been used in popular music.

The defendants in this case include Swift, Sony/ATV, Universal Music Group and songwriters Karl Sandberg and Karl Shuster. A representative for the defendants responded to the lawsuit by commenting that the plaintiffs claim is frivolous and that there is no case here.


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