Copyright claim again Taylor Swift has been dismissed

The Court of California has granted Taylor Swift’s motion to dismiss the copyright claim originally brought by Sean Hall and Nathan Butler against her, which claimed that Swift had copied the lyrics “Playas gonna play… and haters they gonna hate” in her 2014 hit “Shake it off” from their song “Playas gon’ play”, which was released back in 2003 by the US girl band 3LW

First, let’s do a quick refresh on what copyright is. You are entitled to automatic protection under copyright law when you create:

  • original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography
  • original non-literary written work, such as software, web content and databases
  • sound and music recordings
  • film and television recordings
  • broadcasts
  • the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works

In the Taylor Swift case, the whole argument was reliant upon whether the combination of the lyrics was in fact original and creative. The phrases in question were popularly used from the 2000s onwards, therefore neither phrase was found to be original or creative. While it is true that a combination of unprotected words may qualify for protection, it is not true that any combination of words will qualify for protection.

The court held that “the allegedly infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection. Accordingly, if there was copying, it was only of unprotected elements of Playas Gon’ Play.”

Sean Hall and Nathan Butler were given leave to amend by 26 February but have failed to file an amendment before the deadline.

If you require advice on an intellectual property issue, please get in touch with Alison Marshall and Sophie Graham from our corporate team.