“Shaking off” Copyright Lawsuits in the Music Industry: Taylor Swift battles copyright appeal

November 8, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Despite an earlier dismissal in 2018, the US copyright lawsuit against Taylor Swift, concerning the allegedly plagiarised lyrics used in her hit song “Shake it Off”, has been revived.

What does this mean?

The lyrics “the players gonna play” and “haters gonna hate”, popularly recognisable within Taylor Swift’s hit song “Shake it off”, have been a source of much contention. The persistency of the writers of 3LW’s song “Players Gon’ Play” has led to the reconsideration of Judge Fitzgerald’s outlook that the lyrics were lacking in originality and thus not copyright-worthy.

With referral to the past Supreme Court ruling, Justice Holmes warned that “it would be a dangerous undertaking for persons trained only to the law to constitute themselves final judges of the worth of pictorial illustrations”. Applying this reasoning to the assessment of originality for song lyrics, this resulted in a successful call for appeal and the reversal of Judge Fitzgerald’s decision. 

Now we await the appeal determining whether copyright infringement may be proven through the use of such lyrics. This time, the outcome will be based upon a jury decision, rather than reliance upon the sole discretion of Judge Fitzgerald as the initial case did, when determining the originality of these lyrics within Taylor Swift’s song.

What's the big picture effect?

A major concern for artists globally is the increased regularity of copyright lawsuits. One needn’t look too far to observe that, across various news outlets, high-profile artist credibility is frequently being challenged on intellectual property issues such as originality (for more examples, see our article on Katy Perry’s copyright struggles here, or on Lil Nas X’s legal battle here).

In our increasingly digitalised era, where there is greater access to musical content and a wide-ranging reach of technological sources in order to dispute originality of artists’ works, it is important that there is a clear and cohesive legal system in place when addressing copyright issues. Time will determine whether this be within the courtroom, or through improved statutory guidance.

Such regularity of disputes indicates that there may be scope for reform in this area of law. It is clear that there is a necessary balancing act to be reached. Whilst it is important to maintain cautiousness when considering matters of originality, where there are only so many notes to form a melody and words to form lyrics, the big picture effect of these lawsuits is the ultimate risk of stifling the creativity of artists

Ultimately, one may observe that the music industry has become somewhat of a battlefield for copyright lawsuits. In observation of Taylor Swift’s recent US copyright lawsuit, whilst many support the outlook that we “need to calm down” when observing similarities in musical works, the frequent copyright claims against a range of high-profile artists indicates there is no slowing down on matters of originality in the intellectual property arena.

Report written by Karolina Smolicz

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