Taylor Swift’s lawyers filed a motion on Wednesday to dismiss a copyright infringement lawsuit that claims she copied lyrics for her hit 2014 song “Shake It Off” from the 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play” by the girl group 3LW.
Swift’s song spent 37 weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at No. 1. But the lawsuit, filed by the “Playas Gon’ Play” songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler in September, claims Swift copied lyrics from their song for “roughly 20%” of her hit.
The lawsuit specifically centers on a similar couplet of lyrics from both songs. Here’s a comparison of the two songs’ choruses:
- “Playas, they gon’ play / And haters, they gonna hate” (3LW’s “Playas Gon’ Play”)
- “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate” (Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”)
Swift’s motion, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, acknowledges that the lyrics in both songs are similar. But it claims that the lyrics are a musical cliche and therefore not subject to copyright. That players will play and that haters will hate are simple and obvious statements usable by anyone.
It also points out that “copyright does not protect short phrases such as the short phrase plaintiffs claim was copied.”
“ . . . Words such as players will play and haters will hate — which are simply nouns and their corresponding verbs — are not protected by copyright,” the motion stated, adding that to copyright the phrases would “monopolize the idea that players will play and haters will hate.”
“Plaintiffs’ claim to being the only ones in the world who can refer to players playing and haters hating is frivolous,” the motion continued. “Providing a copyright monopoly in the phrase would prevent others from sharing the idea that players play and haters hate.”
It also pointed out that some combination of the terms “player,” “play,” “haters” and “hate” have appeared in the lyrics or titles of many other pop songs long before 3LW released “Playas Gon’ Play” in 2001.
The motion includes a list of examples. Here are a few of the most well known:
- “Players only love you when they’re playing” is a lyric from Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 song “Dreams.”
- The lines “So playa hataz hate me” and “Why you wanna playa hate on me?” both appear in Luniz’s 1995 song “Playa Hata.”
- “Playas in the house can you feel me / Got these playa haters lookin’ at me silly” sang Sir Mix-A-Lot on the 1996 composition “Man U Luv ta Hate.
- The next year, Notorious B.I.G. released “Playa Hater,” which includes the words “We have the playas, and we have the playa haters.”
- Ice-T rapped “Don’t hate the player” on his 1999 song “Don’t Hate the Playa.”
A judge has not yet ruled on the motion.
This isn’t the first copyright lawsuit brought against Swift for “Shake It Off.” In November 2015, R&B musician Jessie Braham sued Swift, claiming that 92 percent of her hit was copied from Braham’s 2013 song “Haters Gone Hate.”
“If Jessie Braham did not write the song ‘Haters Gone Hate’ then Taylor Swift would not have written the song ‘Shake It Off,’ ” his lawsuit declared.
Los Angeles magistrate judge Gail Standish dismissed Braham’s lawsuit in a colorful fashion, including references to various song titles and lyrics from Swift’s album “1989.” As The Washington Post’s Emily Yahr, who called the ruling “a definite win for legal writing,” wrote at the time:
The suit was widely deemed frivolous, so we can’t really blame anyone for having some fun with the legal ruling. If anything, we’re impressed at the judge’s incorporation of multiple Swift songs from the “1989” album. . . . “Defendants have shaken off this lawsuit” [is] from “Shake It Off.” The “we have got problems, and the Court is not sure Braham can solve them” and “Band-Aids will not fix the bullet holes in his case” are from “Bad Blood.”
More from Morning Mix: