The phrase “haters gonna hate” is too “banal” to be copyrighted, a US judge has declared.
Judge Michael W Fitzgerald made the declaration while dismissing a copyright case against Taylor Swift.
Songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler sued the star last year, arguing her single Shake It Off her stole from their composition, Playas Gon’ Play.
They said the chorus of her song relied on their lyric, “playas, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate”.
Although short phrases are generally immune from copyright claims, the writers argued that combining the two thoughts was original enough to warrant protection.
Fitzgerald disagreed – in quite some style.
“The lynchpin of this entire case is thus whether or not the lyrics ‘Playas, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate’ are eligible for protection,” 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.’
“The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.”
The judge also criticised the plaintiffs “clunky” legal arguments, before approving Swift’s motion to dismiss the case.
“In sum, the lyrics at issue… are too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act,” he wrote.
However, he offered Hall and Butler one last chance to amend their argument before the case is settled on 26 February, “just in case there are more similarities between Playas Gon’ Play and Shake it Off than Plaintiffs have alleged thus far”.
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Playas Gon’ Play was a minor hit for US girl band 3LW in 2001. Hall has subsequently written and produced for artists such as Justin Bieber and Maroon 5, while Butler has worked with artists including Backstreet Boys and Luther Vandross.
Their lawyer, Gerard Fox, said he would not file an amendment to the original complaint, but planned to appeal Judge Fitzgerald’s ruling.
Fox said the judge should not have found an expert to rule on the originality of the lyrics, rather than interpreting them himself.
“He cannot make himself an expert in the music industry,” he said. “I’m sorry. it’s actually embarrassing.”
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