Taylor Swift says she never heard song at center of 'Shake It Off' copyright case

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Singer Taylor Swift poses as she arrives to attend the "All Too Well" New York Premiere in New York City, New York, U.S., November 12, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

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  • Pop star asked L.A. court to toss copyright lawsuit
  • Songwriting duo accused Swift of ripping off "Playas Gon' Play"

(Reuters) - Taylor Swift asked a Los Angeles federal court on Monday to throw out a copyright lawsuit by a songwriting duo who accused her of copying their lyrics in her hit 2014 song "Shake It Off."

Swift also told the court in a signed declaration that she had never heard the song she allegedly ripped off, 3LW's "Playas Gon' Play," and that "Shake It Off" was inspired by her experience in the public eye and a desire to provide a "comedic, empowering approach to helping people feel better about negative criticism."

"Prior to writing Shake It Off, I had heard the phrases 'players gonna play' and 'haters gonna hate' uttered countless times to express the idea that one can or should shrug off negativity," the 11-time Grammy winner said.

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The songwriters, Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, said in a statement provided by their attorney that Swift's argument "rings hollow."

"The law does not believe in pure coincidences, especially where, as here, the two works are so strikingly similar," the songwriters said.

An attorney for Swift declined to comment.

Hall and Butler sued Swift in 2017, arguing the chorus of "Shake It Off" ("the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate") misused lyrics from their 2001 song "Playas Gon' Play" ("players, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate"), recorded by R&B girl-group 3LW.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald dismissed the lawsuit in 2018, but the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals revived it after finding Hall and Butler may be able to show that their lyrics were original enough to be copyright protected.

Fitzgerald rejected another bid by Swift to end the case in December. He said that although the songs had some "noticeable differences," there were enough objective similarities to justify a jury trial.

Swift has asked Fitzgerald to reconsider that decision, in a motion that is still pending. Her new motion said the lawsuit has "multiple additional and fatal flaws."

The motion said the songwriters could not show that Swift copied their song. Swift said she was not aware of "Playas Gon' Play" during the peak of its popularity in 2001, when she was "only eleven years old and a country music devotee."

Swift also said that Hall and Butler lacked standing to bring the case because they sold their rights to sue to music-publishing companies.

She also argued that she made "fair use" of the lyrics under copyright law.

The case is Hall v. Swift, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:17-cv-06882.

For Hall and Butler: Gerard Fox and Marina Bogorad of Gerard Fox Law

For Swift: Peter Anderson, Sean Sullivan and Eric Lamm of Davis Wright Tremaine; and Douglas Baldridge and Katie Wright Morrone of Venable

(NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from the songwriters.)

Read more:

Can't shake this: Taylor Swift to face copyright lawsuit

'Players' and 'haters' (Taylor's version) headed for copyright trial

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com