Taylor Cannot Swiftly Escape This Lawsuit

Copying a song?

A 2017 copyright lawsuit in reference to Taylor Swift’s popular hit “Shake It Off” is going back down to the US District Court level for further proceedings.  Songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler sued Swift for her lyric “players gonna play…haters gonna hate.”  According to Hall and Butler’s claim, Swift allegedly stole the line from a 2001 song they wrote entitled “Playas Gon’ Play” for the music group 3LW.  When the 2017 lawsuit was dismissed, a judge ruled that the original 2001 lyric was “too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act.”  A recent panel of three judges, however, disagreed with that reasoning, and were in favor of the plaintiffs’ appeal.

In the initial lawsuit, Hall and Butler intended to blame Taylor Swift and her co-writers, Max Martin and Shellback, Sony/ATV and Universal Music Group for copyright infringement.  The plaintiffs were seeking 20% credit and royalties derived from Swift’s song.  Their argument stems from the notion that in 2001, it was a relatively unique and groundbreaking concept for players to play and haters to hate.  In the current world of pop culture, this phrase is common and not considered original.  Hall and Butler claim that the parallels between Swift’s song and their “Playas Gon’ Play” song is obvious.

In 2018, a judge did not believe Hall and Butler’s argument and ruled that their evidence was not enough to sustain a positive verdict for the plaintiffs and dismissed the case.  Siding with the plaintiffs would only support the monopoly of the idea that players will play, and haters will hate.  In the event of them winning the lawsuit, Hall and Butler would be granted credit for a phrase that is widely used in today’s society.

The three-judge panel that sent the case back down to district court referenced a 1903 ruling in their decision.  In the early 20thCentury, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated that lawyers should not be the ending authority on the value or worth of a work of art or expression.  The three judges who ruled in this recent appeal agreed that the trial court level would be best to determine the outcome.