After all these years of music sampling, courts are still struggling how to interpret copyright laws. However, in a court case against Taylor Swift, the same discussion now starts about pieces of lyrics.
The Claimers Gonna Claim
Blog by Nora Tol
3LW vs Taylor Swift
I really expected a dead ringer. A Billboard article caught my eye about Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”. The singer is accused of taking lyrics from 3LW’s 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play”.
In the first round of this court case, the claim got dismissed. Now, after an appeal – two years later – it gets another chance. A lower court is asked to review it.
Players And Haters
I’m so puzzled, because when I play 3LW’s song I don’t hear much like Taylors at all. The only bit that might compare are these two lines of lyrics: Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate (by songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler).
These are Taylor’s words: ‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate (by Taylor Swift, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster).
And yes, that is exactly what the court case is about.
Let’s Shake It Off
Now, I’m no lawyer, but my common sense is telling me this can’t really be happening. The lyrics aren’t even complete copies. So, immediately, this case has got my attention.
Hall and Butler claim they were the first ever to use the combination of song words “players” and “haters”, also in this sequence. Therefore, they were original and unique enough to get it protected by copyright laws.
To me, it kind of feels like Lionel Richie suing Adele for the usage of “Hello” in a song. And I don’t want to overthink this too much, because I can come up with older songs with the usage of “Hello”, if given more time. But that aside.
The court originally decided that Taylor was original enough in her usage of the words to get protected by the same copyright laws. Hence, the decision to dismiss.
Nevertheless, copyright laws apply to the whole song lyrics, so it also protects portions of lyrics in case of it being copied.
The two 3WL songwriters are already benefiting from this strange court case, because their song has accumulated over 11 million views on YouTube (from which I expect most come from the last few years).