It’s been a few years since anyone had to think about “Shake It Off,” (unless, of course, you teach an elementary-age dance class) or the copyright lawsuits filed against Taylor Swift for allegedly lifting the lyrics “players gon’ play” and “haters gon’ hate.” But we must now return to the place where we began.
In 2o14, Swift released “Shake It Off,” the first single from her fifth album, 1989. The song was fine; the video was not. In 2015, an R&B singer named Jesse Graham sued Swift for copyright infringement, claiming she copied his 2013 song “Hater’s Gone Hate” for the hook to “Shake It Off.” (That’s the “Players gonna play, play, play, play, play/And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate” ear worm.) The suit was dismissed. Then in 2017, 3LW songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler sued Swift for allegedly copying their 2000 hit, “Playas Gon’ Play.” The following year, in 2018, a judge dismissed that suit as well, arguing that the lyrics are too banal to be copyrighted. “Combining two truisms about playas and haters, both well-worn notions as of 2001, is simply not enough,” he said.
Which brings us to 2019—according to Rolling Stone, a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the 3LW suit. The judges ruled to reverse the dismissal, writing:
“Originality, as we have long recognized, is normally a question of fact … Justice Holmes’ century-old warning remains valid. By concluding that, ‘for such short phrases to be protected under the Copyright Act, they must be more creative than the lyrics at issues here,’ the district court constituted itself as the final judge of the worth of an expressive work. Because the absence of originality is not established either on the face of the complaint or through the judicially noticed matters, we reverse the district court’s dismissal.”
But will her phone still go to voicemail?