In the fall of 2017, pop star Taylor Swift was sued over her 2014 hit “Shake It Off.” But last week (Feb. 13) Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled in favor of Swift, concluding that she, Max Martin and Shellback (writers of the song,) did not infringe lyrics from R&B group 3LW’s hit “Playas Gon’ Play.” The writers of the song, Nate Butler and Sean Hall, claimed that “the combination of playas/players playing along with hatas/haters hating… was completely original and unique.” While it definitely has similarities, Judge Fitzgerald disagreed. Fitzgerald stated that “the allegedly infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection.”
Per Genius.com, Fitzgerald also pointed out how the change in popular culture over the years have infused the player/playa concept.
The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal. In the early 2000s, popular culture was adequately suffused with the concepts of players and haters to render the phrases ‘playas … gonna play’ or ‘haters … gonna hate,’ standing on their own, no more creative than ‘runners gonna run,’ ‘drummers gonna drum,’ or ‘swimmers gonna swim.’
At first, it would appear that Butler and Hall make a compelling argument. Here is the chorus to “Playa’s Gon’ Play”:
They gonna play
They gonna hate”
Swift’s track for “Shake It Off” does have a resemblance to “Playas Gon Play.” So because of the similarities, Butler and Hall decided to pursue legal action in September of 2017. Below are the lyrics that brought Swift to court.
“Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
Court cases such as this particular instance are brought on by writers and artists yearly. This may come back to the lines of what’s considered “original” music composition continuing to blur due to the expectations for top writers, producers, and artists to deliver a hit. Teams of writers and producers are brought on to create hits, and it’s not uncommon for songs of yesteryear to be utilized as a basis for a song, whether sampled or interpolated. Ultimately, as Nate Butler and Sean Hall found out, the bottom line remains that having similarities and having copyright infringed upon are still two different things.