Explaining Taylor Swift’s Five-Year Legal Battle Over ‘Shake It Off’


Taylor Swift’s claim this week that “Shake It Off” was “totally written by me” is the latest twist in a five-year-long legal battle between the singer and two unnamed authors over the lyrics to one of her best hits.


According to the 2017 complaint, Taylor plagiarized her “Shake It Off” lyrics about “players going to play” and “haters going to hate” from a 2001 song by the group 3LW called “Playas Gon’ Play,” which contained identical phrasing about “players” and “haters.”

Do not be concerned if you have lost track of the case. Hundreds of motions, multiple key rulings, and a high-profile reversal by an appeals court have already been filed in the “Shake It Off” litigation, all without ever reaching a jury trial or a conclusive resolution on the claims.


Here’s all you need to know about Taylor Swift’s protracted court battle over “Shake It Off.”

What exactly is Taylor accused of doing wrong?


Composers Sean Hall and Nathan Butler filed a lawsuit in September 2017 against Swift, Big Machine Records, Sony Music Publishing, and others associated with “Shake It Off,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 2014 and remained there for 50 weeks.

Swift was accused of taking the lyrics to Hall and Butler’s “Playas Gonna Play,” which was released by R&B group 3LW in 2001 and eventually reached at No. 81 on the Hot 100. At the time, the song was also featured on MTV’s Total Request Live music video countdown.

The lyrics of Hall and Butler’s song were “playas, they’re going to play, and haters, they’re going to hate,” whereas Swift sings, “‘Cause the players are going to play, play, play, play, play, and the haters are going to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate Swift’s statement was boldly ripped from their song, according to the duo’s complaint.

“Defendants were aware or should have been aware that they could not use ‘Playas Gon’ Play’ in a musical production without a license and/or songwriting credit, as is industry standard,” Hall and Butler stated.

Taylor’s reaction to the lawsuit?

Swift’s lawyers soon responded, claiming that the complaint was “fundamentally defective” and should be dismissed since the small portion of lyrics was neither innovative nor unique enough to be protected by copyrights. They discovered over a dozen songs with similar lyrics, including Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 hit “Playa Hater” and Ice-“Hate T’s 1999 hit “Don’t the Player.”

A federal judge agreed with their arguments a few months later. Since 2001, American popular culture has been “heavily saturated in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters,” according to Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, and no single artist can claim a monopoly on such themes.

Why has the lawsuit dragged on for so long?

In 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Judge Fitzgerald’s judgment and reinstated Hall and Butler’s lawsuit against Swift. The court of appeals ruled that the judge had dismissed the case prematurely and that “Playas Gon’ Play” had met the relatively low copyright protection threshold.

Swift’s counsel asked Judge Fitzgerald’s lower court to dismiss the case once more. They requested that the judge grant a summary judgment, which is an immediate finding that she did not violate any copyrights. However, the judge refused to do so in December.

“Even if there are major disparities in the works,” the judge said at the time, “there are significant similarities in word usage and sequence/structure.”

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