Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" copyright case, explained
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Entertainment

Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” Copyright Controversy, Explained

The singer’s 2014 hit is accused of ripping off 3LW’s 2000 song, “Playas Gon’ Play.”

Taylor Swift is still in the process of re-recording her masters, due to ownership issues stemming from her former label. Her on-going feat has sparked a public conversation about artistry, and the rights that musicians have to their music. However, while that battle took place in the public eye, Swift’s been a part of another, quieter, legal dispute as well. For the past four years, she’s privately dealt with allegations of copyright infringement for her 1984 single, “Shake it Off.”

According to the New York Times the lawsuit was filed by Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, who wrote songs for the early 2000S R&B group 3LW (originally comprised of Adrienne Bailon, Kiely Williams, and Naturi Naughton.) According to the allegations, Swift’s 2014 hit “Shake it Off” closely resembles their song, “Playas Gon Play.”

The copyright claims have been pending since 2017, and on December 13th federal judge Michael Fitzgerald decided the case should be tried in court and resolved by a jury. Now Swifts team is urging the him to reconsider.

Keep reading for updates on the legal battle.

Swifts team believes Judge Fitzgerald made a “clear error” in his observations

According to Billboard, Swifts attorneys are asking Fitzgerald to call off the jury trial. In a motion sent to the judge, they argued that moving forward with the proceedings would be a disservice.

“Plantiffs [Hall and Butler] could sue everyone who writes, sings, or publicly says ‘players gonna play’ and ‘haters gonna hate,” they wrote in attempts to dismiss the motion. “To permit that is unprecedented and cheats the public domain.”

Swifts team also compared their case to a similar legal battle that Led Zeppelin faced regarding the intro to “Stairway To Heaven.” “It is essential to distinguish between the protected and unprotected material in a plaintiff’s work,” they wrote.

“Doing so here,” they continued, “leaves only this similarity: both works use versions of two short public domain phrases — ‘players gonna play and haters gonna hate’ — that are free for everyone to use, and two other but different tautologies that plaintiffs claim share the same underlying general idea or concept.”

“The presence of versions of the two short public domain statements and two other tautologies in both songs..simply does not satisfy the extrinsic test,” they concluded.

Hall and Butlers attorneys say Swifts motion “groundless”

In a statement provided to Billboard, the duo’s lawyer, Marina Bogorad said, “all it asks is for the court to reverse itself because Swift is unhappy with the ruling.”

“She raised these arguments before, and they were rejected,” she continued. “The precedent is clear that such motions are routinely denied because the rules are not designed to give an unhappy litigant one additional chance to sway the judge. We are confident the Court will adhere to this precedent here.”

The “Shake It Off” legal battle has been in the works for years.

As reported by the NYT, Hall and Butler originally filed the lawsuit against Swift in September of 2017. It was brought to Judge Fitzgerald, who decided to dismiss the case in 2018, before it was returned to him by the U.S Court of Appeals.

In addition to Swift, other defendants in the case include the producers Max Martin and Shellback, the music publishers Sony and Kobalt, Big Machine Label Group and Universal Music Group.

The lyrics in question come from the chorus of “Shake It Off.”

In their lawsuit, Hall and Butler call the chorus of “Shake it Off” into question. According to them, the lyrics “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” were ripped from their song, which contains the lyrics: “Playas they gonna play, and haters they gonna hate/ Ballers they gonna ball, shot callers they gonna call.”

In his original ruling, Fitzgerald decided the lyrics were, “too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative” to be protected under the Copyright Act.

“In the early 2000s, popular culture was adequately suffused with the concepts of players and haters to render the phrases ‘playas … gonna play’ or ‘haters … gonna hate’ standing on their own, no more creative than ‘runners gonna run,’ ‘drummers gonna drum,’ or ‘swimmers gonna swim,’” he wrote in his February 2018 order.

Swift tried to get the case dismissed.

Swift's original request to “throw out” the copyright infringement suit was denied by Fitzgerald. In response, he said the singer’s lawyers “made a strong closing argument,” but claimed they failed to prove the case couldn’t be resolved by a jury.

Hall and Butler’s legal counsel said the judge made the right decision.

The songwriter’s lawyer, Marina Bogorad, said: “Our clients are extremely satisfied with this decision, especially because it reinforces the notion that their unique self-expression based on the deeply rooted cultural heritage cannot be simply snatched away without proper attribution.”