It’s no secret players are gonna play and haters are gonna hate — but are lyrics about said playing and hating copyrightable? A California federal judge has been asked to consider just that.
The songwriters behind 3LW‘s “Playas Gon’ Play” say Taylor Swift‘s “Shake It Off” infringes on their lyrics. The aughts girl group sang “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate” more than a decade before Swift declared “[T]he players gonna play, play, play, play, play and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
Sean Hall and Nathan Butler co-authored the 2001 song and claim they popularized the now ubiquitous phrase.
“The combination of playas/players playing along with hatas/haters hating may seem like common parlance today, however, in 2001 it was completely original and unique,” writes attorney Gerard Fox in the complaint. “In all, ‘Playas Gon’ Play’ prominently features a sequence of four peoples (playas, haters, callers, and ballers) who engage in four activities (playing, hating, calling, and balling). Plaintiffs were the first to put such a sequence together using the terms playas and haters, and prior to Defendants’ use at issue herein, the combination had not since been used in popular music.”
Hall and Butler say Swift’s song copies the “four part lyrical sequence” — but, instead of callers and ballers, she sings of heartbreakers and fakers. They say it’s standard industry practice to clear use of lyrics with the copyright owners even if they’re not repeated verbatim.
A rep for Swift issued a statement Tuesday in response to the lawsuit: “This is a ridiculous claim and nothing more than a money grab. The law is simple and clear. They do not have a case.”
Indeed, this may be a tough suit to win for Hall and Butler, as the Copyright Act does not protect short phrases including catchwords, catchphrases, mottoes, slogans or short advertising expressions. Since since the litigators would be hard pressed to prove they came up with “players gonna play” and “haters gonna hate,” this seems a fair defense for Swift’s team.
Swift previously defeated a similar suit over the lyrics from Jesse Braham, who said she copied the hook from his song “Haters Gone Hate.” There, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gail Standish ended with Swift’s lyrics, after explaining Braham’s failure to state a claim. “At present, the Court is not saying that Braham can never, ever, ever get his case back in court,” wrote Standish. “But, for now, we have got problems, and the Court is not sure Braham can solve them. … At least for the moment, Defendants have shaken off this lawsuit.”
Sony/ATV, Universal Music Group and songwriters Karl Sandberg, known as Max Martin, and Karl Schuster, known as Shellback, are also named as defendants in the current matter.
Compare the two songs below.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.