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Taylor Swift has dodged a lawsuit this week because her lyrics are too “banal.”
Last fall, the songwriters behind the 2001 hit “Playas Gon’ Play” sued Taylor Swift because the lyrics in her song “Shake It Off” closely resembled theirs. This week, a judge has offered a ruling on the matter, and his opinion is basically the equivalent of the shrug emoji.
Sean Hall and Nathan Butler claimed copyright infringement over the use of the phrase, “The players gonna play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate,” in Swift’s 2014 chart topper, claiming it directly referenced lyrics they’d already written. In the now-iconic 3LW chorus (ranked #89 on Billboard‘s list of 100 greatest girl group songs of all time), the women sing “Playas they gonna play, and haters they gonna hate.” Since the song hit Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart back when it was released, it would have been tricky for Swift to claim ignorance, but the case didn’t make it that far.
According to the Copyright Act, a song is protected if the music or lyrics surpass what the court deems “the banal or trivial.” So art needs some specific signature in order to be copyright-able. Clichés and common phrases tend to not fall under this protection, since they usually lack the specificity needed to prove an original idea.
So now, according to U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald of California, “players gonna play, and haters gonna hate” is fair use for all artists.
“The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal,” he wrote. “In the early 2000s, popular culture was adequately suffused with the concepts of players and haters to render the phrases ‘playas . . . gonna play’ or ‘haters . . . gonna hate,’ standing on their own, no more creative than ‘runners gonna run,’ ‘drummers gonna drum,’ or ‘swimmers gonna swim.’”
In 2015, a YouTuber tried and failed to sue Swift for the same set of lyrics.
Christine Friar is a writer and editor in New York who focuses on streaming entertainment and internet culture. Her work has appeared in the Awl, the Fader, New York Magazine, Paper Magazine, Vogue, Elle, and more.