Taylor Swift can’t ‘shake off’ copyright claim

One of our favourite artists has been back in the news recently - Taylor Swift calls out Damon Albarn over songwriting comments.

Date: Feb 4, 2022

She made headlines recently because of her decision to re-record much of her back catalogue in a (rather ingenious) effort to circumvent ownership issues with her former record label.  It seems that she has also been quietly fighting a copyright challenge relating to one of her best-known hits “Shake it Off”.

Lyricists Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, who wrote music for the early 2000s R&B group 3LW, allege that Swift’s song bears a strong resemblance to 3LW’s “Playas Gon Play” and thus infringes their copyright.  The ear worm chorus of ‘Shake it Off’ (and I defy you not to sing this in your head!) goes “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”.  The Plaintiffs’ song contains the lyrics: “Playas they gonna play, and haters they gonna hate”. 

Under UK law, the case would turn on whether the relevant lyrics represent a “substantial” part of the  work.  A substantial part of the work has been copied if the infringer has taken the “author’s intellectual creation”. 

The claim was dismissed by a Federal Judge at first instance on the basis that the lyrics said to have been copied were too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative to be protected under the US Copyright Act.  That ruling has been appealed, and Swift’s efforts to have the case dismissed once and for all without a trial have been unsuccessful. It remains to be seen whether the case will settle before trial or whether we are in for a dramatic showdown! 

Editorial prepared by Kirsten Magee, Partner, Litigation @ Mills Selig

Kirsten Magee, Partner, Litigation
Kirsten is a highly skilled and experienced commercial litigator with a background in advising both private and public sector clients on a wide range of complex, high-value disputes.

T: 028 9024 3878
E: Kirsten.Magee@MillsSelig.com
W: https://bit.ly/MillsSelig-KirstenMagee

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