Taylor Swift is slowly working her way through re-recording all her old songs, as a giant “fuck you” to her old record label, Big Machine, who she claims denied her the right to buy all her masters back. And one could assume that Taylor would be all too excited to leave the material from her first six albums in the past. Unfortunately, she can’t shake off (I am so sorry) the shadow of Shake It Off, the lead single from her 2014 album 1989. If I was Taylor, I would want to run as far away from “Shake It Off” as humanly possible, just because that music video is pure cringe. But Taylor’s reasons are purely ownership-based. And yet, she can’t move on from it, because there’s been a lawsuit following her around since 2017. It was dismissed once, but it’s back again, and Taylor would like it to be tossed out once more.
In 2017, songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler sued Taylor for ripping off their 2001 song, Playas Gon’ Play, which was recorded by 3LW. Sean and Nathan believe that Shake It Off rips off the lyrics “players gon play” and “haters gonna hate” from their song. This is actually the second time a lawsuit was filed on behalf of an artist who claimed Taylor ripped off a lyric about haters hating, but that first lawsuit was dismissed. Taylor’s people accused Sean and Nathan’s lawsuit of being a money grab, whereas Sean and Nathan believed they owed 20% of the songwriting credits on the song. Then Taylor’s people tried to argue that the phrases are too short to claim intellectual property rights on. A month after that, a judge ruled that all this talk of players and haters was “too trivial or banal” to enforce with copyright laws, and the lawsuit was thrown out. But the judge left the door open for Sean and Nathan to appeal, which…well, I guess you could say players are going to play, and haters will be forced to remain hating. Because they appealed the decision and the lawsuit was brought back.
A three-judge panel from the Ninth Circle of Appeals agreed to let Sean and Nathan continue to sue Taylor, and the judges cited an old ruling from 1903 about common language. Essentially, the judges decided that Taylor should have been a little bit more creative when she applied the players vs. haters maxim, and therefore Sean and Nathan were well within their right to ask for their share of the songwriting credit. Taylor requested a summary judgment on the matter three weeks ago, which was denied. Taylor now believes she’s found herself a little loophole that will get this lawsuit thrown out once more. Public domain! via Rolling Stone:
In the new defense motion filed Dec. 23 that asks Judge Fitzgerald to reconsider his ruling, lawyers for Swift and her publishing partners say the “extrinsic test” and established Circuit law “mandate” that the court focus only on protectable elements while filtering out and disregarding phrases in the public domain.
“Both works use versions of two short public domain phrases – ‘players gonna play’ and ‘haters gonna hate’ – that are free for everyone to use,” the new motion states, arguing that while both songs also use repetitive phrases called tautologies, those aren’t protected either.
“The presence of versions of the two short public domain statements and two other tautologies in both songs – a commonality that the court has noted – simply does not satisfy the extrinsic test. Otherwise, plaintiffs could sue everyone who writes, sings, or publicly says ‘players gonna play’ and ‘haters gonna hate’ alone with other tautologies. To permit that is unprecedented and cheats the public domain,” the new motion argues.
A hearing on the matter has been requested for the first week of February. An attorney for Sean and Nathan released a statement on Taylor’s latest legal move, and their attorney claims it’s nothing more than a massively famous entertainer trying to bully two not-famous people out of justice.
This lawsuit is basically coming down to: is the players and haters motivation conversation unique enough to guarantee an intellectual property claim, or is it used too much in regular life to be classified as unique to one or two people. Good luck to both sides, because I don’t know. I do know I can’t name too many other songs that have back-to-back bars about how players gonna play and haters gonna hate, besides “Shake It Off” and “Playas Gon Play.” Public domain? I don’t know. Taylor should probably start thinking up some new lyrics for “Shake It Off” that apply actually established public domain properties. To be fair, it might actually sound more natural and believable if Taylor Swift re-released “Shake It Off” with a chorus that starts, “Cause the rowers gonna row row row their boat.”