A U.S. District Judge has ruled to dismiss a recent lawsuit against Taylor Swift, in which songwriters Nathan Butler and Sean Hall alleged that her hit song “Shake It Off” ripped off the lyrics to 3LW’s “Playas Gon’ Play,” which the pair wrote for the ’90s girl group. Butler and Hall’s argument centered on the idea that the hook for Swift’s song—“Players gonna play, play, play, play, play, haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”—infringed on their song’s lyrics, “Playas, they gonna play, And haters, they gonna hate,” an argument that the court failed to find compelling.
As always, though, the real joys in this particular battle aren’t so much in the outcome of the case—it always seemed like Hall and Butler’s argument stood on pretty shaky legal ground—but on the linguistic somersaults it provoked in the conflict’s judges. This is, after all, a legal argument that fundamentally boils down to whether it’s inherently creative to note that players will play and haters will hate, as noted by judge Michael Fitzgerald, who wrote the court’s decision: “The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.” Fitzgerald followed that smackdown with another sick judicial burn: “In order for such short phrases to be protected under the Copyright Act, they must be more creative than the lyrics at issue here.” Oof. (There are also digressions about the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Playa Hater,” and whether there’s any legal distinction between song lyrics and jellyfish lamps, because copyright law is a weird and dangerous beast.)
Still, Fitzgerald wasn’t entirely heartless in his dismantling of the songwriters’ case; he gave the plaintiffs one—and only one—shot to revise their arguments for appeal, even as he vocally expressed his disbelief in their ability to do so. (Because haters, as this case has now legally proved, are absolutely gonna hate.)