The singer was first sued in 2017 by songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, who claimed her 2014 hit “Shake It Off” lifted lyrics from their 2001 song for 3LW, “Playas Gon’ Play”; specifically, both songs include variations of the phrases, “playas gonna play” and “haters gonna hate.”
The lawsuit was first dismissed in February 2018 by a U.S. District Court judge but then revived in October 2019 by a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who once again sent it to district court.
The judge at the United States District Court of the Central District of California reviewed the lawsuit Thursday and denied Swift and her legal team’s latest attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed. Judge Michael Fitzgerald said that while Swift’s “experts do make some persuasive arguments with regard to why various factors of the respective musical and literary work analyses do objectively distinguish Playas and Shake,” he ruled that “there are still numerous factors … that do not eliminate the possibility that there is still a genuine dispute as to the potential substantial similarity between the lyrics and their sequential structure as framed by Plaintiffs.” He added that a trial should decide whether the two songs “share substantial similarities,” and not musicologists.
“[Swift’s legal team] argue that even if there are protectable elements in ‘Playas,’ they are not substantially similar to those in ‘Shake’ (as a literary or as a musical work),” Fitzgerald’s ruling, obtained by Rolling Stone, stated. “Plaintiffs argue that there are at least seven elements in the selection and arrangement of the four-part lyrical sequence at issue that the chorus of ‘Shake’ copies from ‘Playas,’ including, for example: 1) Shake’s combination of tautological phrases; 2) parallel lyrics; and 3) grammatical model ‘Xers gonna X.’”
Marina Bogorad, an attorney for Hall and Butler, told Rolling Stone of Thursday’s ruling: “Our clients are extremely satisfied with this decision, especially because it reinforces the notion that their unique self-expression based on the deeply rooted cultural heritage cannot be simply snatched away without proper attribution. We are pleased that the court refused to engage into a battle of the experts, especially given that defendants’ resources vastly outweigh those of our clients here, and it is about time that justice should serve the merits rather than deep pockets.”
Reps for Swift did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment. In 2018, after the case was successfully appealed following its dismissal, a rep for the singer told Rolling Stone, “These men are not the originators, or creators, of the common phrases ‘Players’ or ‘Haters’ or combinations of them. They did not invent these common phrases nor are they the first to use them in a song. We are confident the true writers of ‘Shake It Off’ will prevail again. Their claim is not a crusade for all creatives, it is a crusade for Mr. Hall’s bank account.”
The “Shake It Off” infringement case has been set for August 30th, 2022.