Taylor Swift copyright case dismissed

On Behalf of | Dec 20, 2022 | Copyright Law, Intellectual Property Litigation |

A copyright infringement case against Taylor Swift was dismissed with prejudice, which means that the plaintiff cannot file another claim involving the same issue. The trial was to begin on January 17, 2023.

The dispute involved the Swift song “Shake it Off,” released in 2014 on her 1989 album. In her song, Swift sings the following lyrics, which she wrote:

’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

Songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler claimed that Swift stole from their “Playas Gon’ Play song released in 2000 by 3LW. It contained the lines:

Playas, they gonna play
And haters, they gonna hate.

Judges disagree

In 2017, Hall and Butler filed their claim in a federal district court in California. The judge dismissed the case in 2018, noting that the lyrics in the claim were “banal” and “too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative” to warrant copyright protection. He also cited other songs covering similar themes. The songwriters appealed, and judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2019 in their favor. They ruled that the U.S. District Judge of Los Angeles prematurely decided the case without a jury and sent it back to the same judge. Following a confidential agreement between Swift and the songwriters, the judge then dismissed the case again, this time with prejudice.

Other recent cases of note

As the case went through the courts, it became a focal point in the music industry’s ongoing debate over copyright infringement and credit. It would have been in the same high-profile category as other recent cases. Rather than lyrics, these involved musical comparisons.

One was Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (co-written with Pharrel Williams), borrowing too heavily on inspiration from Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” It involved a $5.3 million award to the Gaye family handled in the Central District of California.

Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” involved chord progressions, accompaniment and other common musical elements. Both these cases went through the 9th Circuit, and the plaintiffs lost on appeals.