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Taylor Swift’s “players gonna play” lyric theft dispute returns

By | Published on Thursday 20 September 2018

Taylor Swift

The songwriters who reckon Taylor Swift ripped them off when she sang about players playing and haters hating are having another go at suing her.

This time last year Sean Hall and Nathan Butler accused Swift of ripping off a 2001 song they wrote for 3LW called ‘Playas Gon Play’ on her 2014 hit ‘Shake It Off’. The lawsuit argued that Swift’s famous lyric “Cos the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”, was basically a copy of the line “The playas gon play/Them haters gonna hate” from their 2001 track.

Swift’s legal team dubbed the song-theft legal claim a “money grab” and asked the judge to dismiss the case. Which he did back in February of this year. Despite the Hall and Butler side insisting that the notion of playas playing and haters hating was super innovative in 2001, judge Michael W Fitzgerald reckoned that the lyrics at the centre of the dispute were simply too generic to enjoy copyright protection in isolation.

Actually, Fitzgerald said they were too “banal”. When dismissing the case, he remarked: “American popular culture [is] heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters. The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal”.

Therefore, he said, “the allegedly infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection”.

However, Hall and Butler reckon that the question as to whether or not their lyrics enjoy copyright protection in isolation is more complex than Fitzgerald concluded, and therefore needs proper scrutiny in court.

They have now taken the matter to the Ninth Circuit court of appeal and – according to Law360 – stated: “The question of whether the four-part sequence of song lyrics at issue is sufficiently original to deserve copyright protection requires subjective value judgment that belongs to a jury”.

Although Fitzgerald dismissed the two writers’ lawsuit at first instance, he subsequently declined to award Swift legal costs, basically saying that Hall and Butler posed a legitimate question about the reach of copyright, even if he ultimately ruled against them.

He said in April, when knocking back Swift’s claim for Hall and Butler to cover her attorneys’ fees, that: “There are very few recording artists, if any, who have a greater interest than Ms Swift in a robust regime of copyright law. Be careful what you wish for”.

In their new legal filing, Hall and Butler argue that comments made by Fitzgerald – including that one – suggest the dismissal of their lawsuit was a “close call”, hence the argument that the whole dispute should have some proper court time.

Team Swift are yet to comment on the latest litigation.