A pair of songwriters who say Taylor Swift stole the lyrics to “Shake It Off” have fired back at the superstar’s renewed efforts to escape the case, saying she’s not entitled to “rehash” old arguments simply because she’s “unhappy” that a judge sent the case to trial.
After a federal judge ruled in December that Swift would have to stand trial over claims that she lifted lyrics from the 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play,” her attorneys quickly asked the judge to reconsider his own decision – a rare step that judges take only if they’ve clearly gotten something wrong.
Swift’s attorneys say the ruling was “unprecedented” and potentially harmful to other artists, but in a response filed Friday (Jan. 14), attorneys for “Playas” songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler said there was “no conceivable procedural vehicle” for her to demand such a rare redo.
“The rules simply do not provide defendants with vehicles for rehashing old arguments and are not intended to give an unhappy litigant one additional chance to sway the judge,” wrote Marina Bogorad of the firm Gerard Fox Law, representing the duo.
Notably, the new filing also criticized Swift’s attorneys for citing media coverage that “bemoaned” the court’s decision against the singer, saying they had no legal value and the judge should not even consider them.
“Summary judgment decisions are not made in the court of public opinion, and this court should not be swayed by its fickle nature,” Bogorad wrote for Hall and Butler. “Defendants cite no basis for their truly unprecedented attempt to infuse public debate into the court’s analysis.”
Hall and Butler sued Swift for copyright infringement in 2017, citing similarities between the lyrics to her 2014 chart-topper hit and their “Playas Gon’ Play,” which was released by the group 3LW. Their line was “playas, they gonna play” and “haters, they gonna hate”; in Swift’s track, she sings, “‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
“Shake It Off” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 2014 and spent four weeks atop the chart. The song ultimately spent 50 weeks on the Hot 100, tied with Swift’s “You Belong With Me” for her longest-charting single.
In early December, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald refused Swift’s request to toss out Hall and Butler’s case. Saying there were both “noticeable differences” but also “objective similarities,” the judge said the case was too close to call and would thus need to be decided by a jury of Swift’s peers.
Two weeks later, Swift’s attorneys argued that the ruling was clearly wrong and urged Judge Fitzgerald to issue a rare ruling reversing himself. They said the “players” and “haters” lyrics were far too simple for Hall and Butler to sue Swift, and warned that “no other court” had ever allowed such a case to proceed to trial.
“Plaintiffs could sue everyone who writes, sings, or publicly says ‘players gonna play’ and ‘haters gonna hate,’” Swift’s attorney, Peter Anderson of the firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, wrote at the time. “To permit that is unprecedented and cheats the public domain.”
In Friday’s rebuttal, Hall and Butler’s attorneys said such an argument was not only procedurally improper, but was also legally flawed. They said copyright precedent clearly allows them to sue Swift for copying the so-called selection and arrangement of their lyrical choices, even if some individual aspects of their lyrics aren’t protected.
“Out of the myriad of choices available to put together a chorus expressing the basic idea that people will do what they do while the protagonist should stay true to herself, defendants decided to appropriate all the plaintiffs’ choices,” Bogorad wrote.
Judge Fitzgerald will weigh both arguments and issue a ruling in the weeks ahead. If he refuses to reconsider the ruling – the most likely outcome – a trial is tentatively scheduled for August.
Swift’s attorneys did not respond to request for comment.