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Taylor Swift Wins Copyright Infringement Lawsuit: Lyrics ‘Too Banal’ for Protection


According to a report from CNBC, pop music star Taylor Swift has prevailed in a copyright infringement lawsuit. Two Los Angeles based songwriters are accusing Taylor Swift of unlawfully using their copyright protected song lyrics on her 2014 number hit single ‘Shake it Off’.

However, a federal district court judge has dismissed the case. In his decision, the judge stated that the song lyrics in questions are “too banal” for copyright protection. This is an instructive ruling. While there is no doubt that short phrases in songs and literature may be entitled to copyright protection, lines must be highly original and creative to obtain legal protection.

Similar Sounding Songs Lyrics: Not Copyright Infringement?   

This case provides a useful example of how song lyrics can be relatively similar, without being a violation of United States copyright law. There was no question that the terminology in the specific lyrics in the two songs that are at issue in this case are relatively similar. In her 2014 song ‘Shake it Off”, Taylor Swift sings the phrase:

“the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

The plaintiffs argued that this lyric amounted to copyright infringement for a song that they wrote for the band 3LW in 2001. The 3LW song contained the lyric:

“players, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate,” 

Notably, the musical melody and tempo are different in these two songs. In assessing the case, the federal judge noted that the lyrics were largely a ‘truism’. Though slang words were used to make the point, it was unoriginal slang. The songwriters for 3LW were not the first to use ‘players’ and ‘haters’ in this context.

Copyright Protection: Song Lyrics Must Be Original and Creative

It can be somewhat difficult to get copyright protection for short phrases in songs. In order to qualify for such protection, the lyrics or the terminology must be especially unique and creative. This is true whether a person is attempting to get copyright protection for a song or for a literary work. Under U.S. copyright law, protection will only be granted for lines that are deemed to be sufficiently original. In this case, the judge determined that the plaintiffs failed to prove that their slang lyrics were sufficiently creative and original. As such, Taylor Swift’s ‘twist’ on the slang usage in her song is permissible under the law. The attorneys’ for the plaintiffs have stated that they plan to appeal the decision.

Contact Our Florida Copyright Litigation Lawyers Today

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our copyright litigation attorneys are dedicated to providing top quality legal services to our clients. If you need legal guidance with your copyright infringement case, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team today for a free, no strings attached initial consultation. We have offices in West Palm Beach, Wellington and Miami, and we are proud to serve clients throughout South Florida, including in Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, and Miramar.



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