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‘Shake It Off’ copyright case against Taylor Swift will proceed to a jury trial

A woman in a shiny black outfit sings into a microphone onstage.
A copyright case against Taylor Swift can proceed.
(Rick Scuteri / Invision/Associated Press)

A federal judge isn’t about to let Taylor Swift break up with a copyright case that’s been brought against her: After its second trip through U.S. district court, the case is headed to a jury trial.

Swift was sued in 2017 by Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, the songwriters behind the 2001 tune “Playas Gon’ Play,” performed by 3LW. A U.S. district court judge tossed the case the next year, but Hall and Butler appealed to the Ninth Circuit and won.

The case was sent back to district court, where Swift’s request for summary judgment was heard this year by a different judge.

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“As indicated at the hearing, this [Swift’s] argument is really a motion for reconsideration of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. It’s not as if the lyrics in the record now are materially different than what the Complaint alleges,” U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald wrote Thursday in his ruling on the case.

Later in the ruling, he wrote, “[I]t is clear that there are enough objective similarities amongst the works to imply that the Court cannot presently determine that no reasonable juror could find substantial similarity of lyrical phrasing, word arrangement, or poetic structure between the two works.”

With Swift’s motion for dismissal denied, the case will proceed to a jury.

“Shake It Off” became a massive hit after Swift released it as the first single off her 2014 album, “1989.” On Spotify it has been streamed nearly 700 million times, while on YouTube the video has more than 3 billion views.

“She delivers the chorus with a joyful defiance,” The Times’ Randall Roberts wrote of the song in 2014. “Don’t think. Dance. Stepping out on me? Play away. Getting yelled at by mom? Put your hands over your ears and start screaming ‘the haters gonna hate!’”

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The chorus from Hall and Butler’s 3LW song goes like this:

The playas gon’ play
Them haters gonna hate
Them callers gonna call
Them ballers gonna ball.”

Swift’s chorus, meanwhile, is as follows:

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

‘You call me up again just to break me like a promise,’ Taylor Swift sang during a 10-minute performance of ‘All Too Well’ on ‘Saturday Night Live.’

Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

Another “Shake It Off” copyright infringement case, brought by R&B singer Jesse Braham and related to his tune “Haters Gone Hate,” was dismissed in 2015. In that situation, the judge delivered her decision in a riff that incorporated myriad Swift lyrics.


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