If you expect your lyrics to be protected by copyright, you’d better make sure they say something “creative,” according to a judge’s ruling in a copyright infringement battle over Taylor Swift’s 2014 #1 hit “Shake It Off.” Two songwriters, Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, had filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles last year stating that Swift’s song was based around the phrase “players, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate,” that they used in their 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play” by the group 3LW.
The lyrics in the chorus of “Shake It Off” are, “the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” which the songwriters that was too close to the original.
U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald was having none of it though. “In order for such short phrases to be protected under the Copyright Act, they must be more creative than the lyrics at issue here,” he ruled. “In short, combining two truisms about playas and haters, both well-worn notions as of 2001, is simply not enough.”
The interesting thing here is that only the lyrics were at issue and not the music, so there was a very narrow window for this ruling to go against Swift to begin with.
This isn’t over however, as the plaintiffs will pursue the case to the Court of Appeals because the judge made the ruling by himself without consulting with music experts, according to the songwriter’s attorney.
Hall is a songwriter and producer for artists like Justin Bieber and Maroon 5, and Butler has worked with Backstreet Boys and Luther Vandross in the past, so these guys definitely have some credits behind them, but this case sure does seem flimsy. The fact of the matter is that many infringement lawsuits aren’t initiated until a song has proven to be a success and the majority of the money has been collected in order to see if it’s worth bringing to court in the first place.
Still, it’s good to see one of these finally ruled in the direction that common sense expects.[Graphic: Nick Youngson from Blue Diamond Gallery]