A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday that accused Taylor Swift of copyright infringement on her hit song “Shake It Off.”
Songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler brought the suit last fall, arguing that the chorus of the song borrowed from their 2001 composition, “Playas Gon’ Play.”
In his ruling, Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald held that combining the phrases, “Playas gonna play” and “haters gonna hate,” does not entail sufficient originality to warrant copyright protection.
“By 2001, American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.”
The plaintiffs’ song includes the following line in the chorus: “Playas, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate.” “Shake It Off” includes the line, “Players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
Though short phrases are generally immune from copyright infringement claims, the plaintiffs argued that combining the two thoughts was sufficiently original to claim copyright protection. Fitzgerald disagreed.
“It is hardly surprising that Plaintiffs, hoping to convey the notion that one should persist regardless of others’ thoughts or actions, focused on both players playing and haters hating when numerous recent popular songs had each addressed the subjects of players, haters, and player haters,” he wrote. “In short, combining two truisms about playas and haters, both well-worn notions as of 2001, is simply not enough.”
“In sum, the lyrics at issue – the only thing that Plaintiffs allege Defendants copied – are too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act,” Fitzgerald concluded.
The case was dismissed with leave to amend, but Fitzgerald advised the plaintiffs not to refile the suit unless there are as-yet-undiscovered similarities between the two songs.