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The other Shake It Off lyric-theft case returns to court

By | Published on Tuesday 26 November 2019

Taylor Swift

So you all remember the ‘Shake It Off’ lyric lawsuit right? No you don’t! You’re thinking of the ‘Shake It Off’ lyric lawsuit. But I’m talking about the ‘Shake It Off’ lyric lawsuit. And here’s the news: it’s back!

In 2015 a musician called Jesse Graham sued Taylor Swift accusing her of ripping off his 2013 song ‘Haters Gonna Hate’ on her 2014 hit. His song, see, contained the lyric “Haters gone hate, Haters gon hate, Playas gon play, Playas gon play”. And then Swifty, on her song, sang “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”. A blatant rip off, reckons Graham.

However, the judge who ended up dealing with the case was far from convinced, speedly tossing the lawsuit while issuing a comedy judgement that quoted Taylor Swift song titles and lyrics. Just in case anyone thought Graham’s legal claims weren’t entertaining enough already.

Then in 2017 songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler went legal insisting that ‘Shake It Off’ was not, in fact, a rip off of Graham’s ‘Haters Gonna Hate’, but of a song they wrote all the way back in 2001 called ‘Playas Gon Play’. It contained the line “The playas gon play/Them haters gonna hate”.

The judge who threw that case out of his courtroom employed snark rather than sneaky Taylor Swift references. Singing about players playing and haters hating was far too “banal”, he ruled, for such lines to enjoy any kind of copyright protection.

Then last month the whole matter was back in the news when America’s Ninth Circuit appeals court decided that the banality, or not, of pop song lyrics, and the impact that banality, or not, has on the copyrightability of those lyrics is something for a jury to decide. Not a judge. And so the Hall/Butler case is heading back to a lower court for another go.

Which is possibly why Graham has suddenly popped up again with a rework of his legal claim against Swift. ‘Shake It Off’, he would like the court to remember, “extensively copies” his song, which the pop star and her songwriting pals “undoubtedly had access” to “given the broad dissemination of ‘Haters Gone Hate'”.

It’s actually Graham’s fourth go at suing Swift, so it will be interesting to see how quickly the judge will toss this one. I mean, whether the judge responds more positively this time. He’s seeking damages of at least $42 million. And why not, say I!