Artist News Business News Labels & Publishers Legal Top Stories

Taylor Swift submits statement to court in ongoing Shake It Off song-theft legal battle

By | Published on Tuesday 9 August 2022

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift yesterday submitted a statement to a US court as part of the long-running song-theft legal battle over her 2014 hit ‘Shake It Off’, which songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler reckon rips off their 2001 song ‘Playas Gon Play’. Swift’s statement explains how she came up with the lyrics for her track, while also insisting there was no way she could have been exposed to ‘Playas Gon Play’ before creating ‘Shake It Off’.

Hall and Butler first sued Swift in 2017. Their song, recorded by 3LW, included the lyric “the playas gon play/them haters gonna hate”, while ‘Shake It Off’ famously includes the line “the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”.

The legal action has been rumbling on ever since. In 2018, judge Michael Fitzgerald actually dismissed the duo’s lawsuit on the basis that the handful of lyrics the two songs have in common are not protected by copyright in isolation.

However, Hall and Butler successfully over-turned that ruling in the Ninth Circuit appeals court, where the appeal judges said that Fitzgerald had been too hasty to conclude that the lines about players playing and haters hating were not protected by copyright.

As a result, the whole matter was sent back to the lower court. Ever since, the Swift side has been trying to get the case dismissed for a second time, mainly on the basis that, well, the handful of lyrics the two songs have in common are not protected by copyright in isolation.

But Fitzgerald has so far declined to dismiss the case again, generally concluding that the Swift’s sides arguments haven’t really changed, so if he was to grant the more recent motions for dismissal, the Ninth Circuit would likely again conclude that he was being too hasty.

According to Pitchfork, in the new court documents, Swift states: “The lyrics to ‘Shake It Off’ were written entirely by me. Until learning about plaintiffs’ claim in 2017, I had never heard the song ‘Playas Gon Play’ and had never heard of that song or the group 3LW”.

So, her ‘Shake It Off’ lyrics could not have been influenced by the earlier song. Instead, she adds, those lyrics “drew partly on experiences in my life and, in particular, unrelenting public scrutiny of my personal life, ‘clickbait’ reporting, public manipulation, and other forms of negative personal criticism which I learned I just needed to shake off and focus on my music”.

“With ‘Shake It Off'”, she goes on, “I wanted to provide a comedic, empowering approach to helping people feel better about negative criticism through music, dance, and the personal independence enabling one to just shake off the negative criticism”.

And, as for the two key phrases shared by ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘Playas Gon Play’, well, as her lawyers have repeatedly argued, they are pretty common phrases. And, Swift writes in the new court filing, she had previously heard both those phrases in multiple different places.

“Prior to writing ‘Shake It Off’, I had heard the phrases ‘players gonna play’ and ‘haters gonna hate’ uttered countless times to express the idea that one can or should shrug off negativity”, she writes. “I recall hearing phrases about players play and haters hate stated together by other children while attending school in Wyomissing Hills, and in high school in Hendersonville”.

“These phrases were akin to other commonly used sayings”, she reckons, “like ‘don’t hate the playa, hate the game’, ‘take a chill pill’, and ‘say it, don’t spray it’. I drew on those commonly used player and hater phrases in creating the lyrics ‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate'”.

Returning to the argument that she had never heard ‘Playas Gon Play’ until 2017, she adds that her parents controlled what media she consumed until her early teens, meaning she didn’t watch things like MTV’s ‘TRL’ show until “I was about thirteen years old”, ie after the release of the 3LW track.

“None of the CDs I listened to as a child, or after that, were by 3LW”, she goes on. “I have never heard the song ‘Playas Gon Play’ on the radio, on television, or in any film”. And if you think that maybe she was exposed to 3LW generally or ‘Playas Gon Play’ specifically because they appeared on the US versions of the Now! albums in the early 2000s, well, “I do not own and have never listened to the albums ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 6’ or ‘Now That’s What I Call Call Music! 7’”.

So there you go! The case, as they say, continues.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.