Taylor Swift’s Lyrical Copyright Victory

In a fairly scathing judgment, Californian  District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald has granted Taylor Swift‘s motion to dismiss a 2017 copyright lawsuit filed against her by songwriting duo Sean Hall and Nathan Butler.

Hall & Butler alleged that in her hit song Shake It Off, Swift stole lyrics from their 2000 song Playas Gon’ Play, written for US R&B girl group 3LW.

Playas Gon’ Play includes the lyrics “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate”. The chorus to Swift’s single features the lines, “Cause the players gonna play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

Fitzgerald described the lyrics as too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative to warrant copyright protection. [Comment: not sure who should be more offended, Taylor Swift or the songwriting duo!]

Fitzgerald noted further,

“By 2001, American popular culture was 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. The alleged infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection.

The Defendants drew the court’s attention to a range of songs and names of musical groups that used the terms such as “playa” and “hater” to demonstrate that these are not original terms. The Copyright Act protects only original works of authorship and short phrases are generally not accorded protection.

“Ordinary phrases are not entitled to copyright protection… Phrases and expressions conveying an idea typically expressed in a limited number of stereotyped fashions are not subject to copyright protection.” Narell v. Freeman, 872 F.2d 907, 911 (9th Cir. 1989)

Hall & Butler have until 26 February 2018 to file amended pleadings however any future dismissal will be without leave to amend.

Judgment: Sean Hall d.b.a. Gimme Some Hot Sauce Music, et al. v. Taylor Swift, et al.

Cited case: Narell v. Freeman, 872 F.2d 907, 911 (9th Cir. 1989)


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