A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit claiming that Taylor Swift ripped off the chorus of her hit song, “Shake It Off.”
The district judge dismissed the suit in February 2018, finding insufficient similarity between the song and the 2001 composition, “Playas Gon’ Play.” Judge Michael Fitzgerald held that the songwriters of the earlier work, Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, did not display sufficient creativity in combining the phrases “playas gonna play” and “haters gonna hate.”
“By 2001, American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters,” Fitzgerald wrote at the time. “The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.”
Superstar songwriters have found themselves on the losing end of a series of such lawsuits, including the “Blurred Lines” and “Dark Horse” cases, so Swift’s victory in this case was notable.
However, a federal appeals court reversed the ruling on Monday, finding that the claim should be left for a jury to decide.
“Originality, as we have long recognized, is normally a question of fact,” held the three-judge panel of John Owens, Andrew Hurwitz and Kenneth Lee. But substituting his own judgment on the originality of the work at issue, the district court “constituted itself as the final judge of the worth of an expressive work,” the appellate panel held.
The case was remanded for further proceedings at the district court. Swift’s attorneys are expected to seek dismissal on alternate grounds.