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Lawsuit Over Lyrics in Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ Is Dismissed

Swift’s case involved only words, not music, and drew commentary from legal experts over how such questions apply to lyrics.

The lawsuit was filed by Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, the songwriters behind “Playas Gon’ Play,” a 2000 track by the R&B group 3LW that contains the lines “Playas, they gonna play/And haters, they gonna hate.” They accused Swift of using those lines without permission or credit on “Shake It Off,” which was released in 2014 and became one of Swift’s defining hits, notching four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

“Shake It Off,” written by Swift and the producers Max Martin and Shellback — who were also defendants in the case, along with the record companies and music publishers associated with the track — features a chorus that her fans can chant by heart:

’Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
Shake it off, shake it off

Five months after the case was filed, it was dismissed by a judge who said that the lyrics in question were “short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection.” That judge, Michael W. Fitzgerald of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, opined further about the lyrical description of players playing and haters hating.

“The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative,” Judge Fitzgerald wrote. “It is banal.”

The judge also noted the preponderance of similar phrases in earlier pop songs, like Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (“Players only love you when they’re playing”) and the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Playa Hater” (“There are two kinds of people in the world today/We have the playas, and we have the playa haters”).

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