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Taylor Swift’s song about players playing and haters hating doesn’t infringe on an earlier work addressing the same catchy behavior, a California federal judge ruled Tuesday.
The songwriters behind 3LW’s 2001 hit “Playas Gon‘ Play” sued Swift in September, claiming “Shake It Off” infringes on their lyrics.
The girl group sang “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate,” while Swift declared “[T]he players gonna play, play, play, play, play and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” At the time, a rep for the superstar said the complaint was nothing more than a “ridiculous … money grab.”
U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald on Tuesday granted Swift’s motion to dismiss the suit but is giving plaintiffs Sean Hall and Nathan Butler one shot to amend their complaint by Feb. 26.
There’s no dispute over whether Hall and Butler owned their lyrics, or that Swift’s team had access to the song. There’s also no allegation of copying the underlying musical composition. So Fitzgerald’s analysis centers on whether there is substantial similarity between protectable lyrics. (Read it in full below.)
“The lynchpin of this entire case is thus whether or not the lyrics ‘Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate’ are eligible for protection under the Copyright Act,” he writes. “[B]y 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.”
Fitzgerald seems unconvinced Hall and Butler will be able to change his mind in the future, but he’s allowing them to amend their complaint in case they intend to allege other similarities between the two works.
“The allegedly infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection,” writes Fitzgerald. “While the Court is extremely skeptical that Plaintiffs will — in a manner consistent with Rule 11 — be able to rehabilitate their copyright infringement claim in an amended complaint, out of an abundance of forbearance it will give Plaintiffs a single opportunity to try.”
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