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Taylor Swift has another go at shaking off Shake It Off lyric theft action

By | Published on Thursday 13 August 2020

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has filed new legal papers which, yet again, explain why her singing about players playing and haters hating can’t possibly have infringed the copyright in any previous songs in which players played and haters hated.

This all relates to one of the ‘Shake It Off’ song-theft lawsuits. The one in which Sean Hall and Nathan Butler accused Swift of ripping off their 2001 song ‘Playas Gon Play’ on her 2014 hit in which, of course, she sang that “the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”.

In 2018, a US district court judge dismissed Hall and Butler’s lawsuit on the basis that the fact of players playing and haters hating was all too “banal” for the duo’s 2001 lyric “the playas gon play/them haters gonna hate” to enjoy copyright protection in isolation.

But the duo took their case to the Ninth Circuit appeals court, where appeal judges criticised the lower court judge for reaching such a speedy conclusion, adding that Hall and Butler had “plausibly alleged originality” and therefore had a sufficiently strong case for the lawsuit to proceed to a full hearing.

Which means the whole thing is back with the district court, hence why Team Swift are having to re-file their arguments for why ‘Shake It Off’ definitely did not infringe any lyrics from ‘Playas Gon Play’.

Among other things, Swift’s lawyers argue that when an idea and the expression of that idea are inseparable, the expression can’t be protected by copyright, because that would mean the idea was also protected by copyright, and copyright doesn’t protect ideas.

The idea here being that players are going to play and haters are going to hate, and the expression of that idea being “the playas gon play/them haters gonna hate”.

“Plaintiffs admit that ‘players play’ and ‘haters hate’ are each commonplace phrases”, says the new legal filing, “but plaintiffs allege they are the first to ‘combine playas/players playing along with hatas/haters hating’ to ‘describe two separate people – one playa who engages in playing and one hater who engages in hating'”.

“However”, it goes on “the idea of one player who engages in playing and one hater who engages in hating is inseparable from the allegedly copied words, namely players play and haters hate”.

It then adds: “Here, the only similarity between plaintiffs’ lyric … and ‘Shake It Off’s lyric … is the unprotectable idea that players play and haters hate”.

So, there you go, the banality of players playing and haters hating may not be sufficient to kick out Hall and Butler’s copyright claim through summary judgment, but seeking protection for a phrase that equates to wanting exclusive control of a mere idea is. Or so reckons Team Swift. We await to see how Hall and Butler respond.