Looks like the haters gonna hate, and the players gonna play in court soon. Remember when Taylor Swift was sued with that “Shake It Off” lawsuit? Well, it looks like the 29-year-old country pop sweetheart just can’t seem to shake off the case (Sorry, I had to. I’ll see myself out now.) The copyright lawsuit has been reopened this week.
This is all a little strange, because everything seemed settled over a year ago—back in February of 2018, to be exact—after Swift was originally hit with a copyright lawsuit over the chorus of her iconic single. The men suing her, Sean Hill and Nathan Butler, wrote lyrics much like hers when they worked on a track called “Playas Gon’ Play,” by 3LW in 2001. Theirs went a little something like this:
“The playas gon’ play / Them haters gonna hate” and “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate.”
Taylor’s lyrics, to their credit, seem awfully similar. As we all know, the earworm chorus is as follows:
“’Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
Yet a judge on the case looked at the evidence and figured this was a done deal. In notes from the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald wrote, “It is hardly surprising that [the] 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.” That’s all a little bit of a mouthful, but what Fitzgerald is essentially saying is simple: Why were these guys trying to claim copyright infringement on Taylor, of all people, when plenty of popular songs have used the “players gonna play” or “haters gonna hate,” cliché already? Fitzgerald clarified, stating “combining two truisms about playas and haters, both well-worn notions as of 2001, is simply not enough.”
“In sum,” he concluded, “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.”
And so, case closed, right? Nope.
This week, a panel of three Ninth Circuit judges reviewed the case and decided to overturn Fitzgerald’s original ruling. “By concluding that ‘for such short phrases to be protected under the Copyright Act, they must be more creative than the lyrics at issues here,’ the district court constituted itself as the final judge of the worth of an expressive work,” reads the latest from the new judges. “Because the absence of originality is not established either on the face of the complaint or through the judicially noticed matters, we reverse the district court’s dismissal.”
TDLR: The judges suggested that Fitzgerald isn’t the authority on what constitutes originality or not. To really prove whether this is a valid instance of copyright infringement, the case is recommended to go to trial by jury instead. For now, the case has been appointed to a district court once more. Looks like Taylor will just have to wait and see. (Hopefully she won’t get into any more lawsuits, in the meantime.)