New York fans of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift often admit they admire her because her music speaks to them. Swift’s lyrics come from personal experiences, and those who enjoy her songs, especially young women, find them empowering. However, songwriters frequently find themselves faced with lawsuits when their music or lyrics too closely resemble songs written by other people. Swift is no stranger to these lawsuits, and in the past, copyright law has been on her side.
In 2001, the group 3LW performed an R&B song called “Playas Gon’ Play,” written by Sean Hall and Nathan Butler. Recently, Hall and Butler filed a lawsuit against Swift, claiming that the refrain of her song “Shake It Off” too closely resembles the lyrics and structure of their 2001 release. While the two songs sound nothing alike, Hall and Butler contend that Swift’s use the of the lines, “Players gonna play… and the haters gonna hate…” are derivative of their lyrics, “Them playas gon’ play, them haters gonna hate.”
A similar lawsuit in 2015 pitted Swift against the writer of the song “Haters Gonna Hate,” who, again, accused Swift of using lyrics from his song. However, the law states that short phrases are not protected by copyright law. There may be even less protection when those phrases are commonly used, as the ones are in the refrain of Swift’s song.
Taylor Swift’s fans in New York will see if she can shake off the accusations in this new action, or if a judge will find that her lyrics infringe on the protections afforded her opponent by copyright law. Creators of artistic works have a right to seek protection for their creations, and this often begins with a clear understanding of the law. Seeking answers and advice from a copyright attorney is a good place to start.
Source: Forbes, “Taylor Swift Sued For Lyrics In Mega-Hit ‘Shake It Off’“, Sept. 19, 2017