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Taylor Swift Copyright Accusers Drop Lawsuit Over ‘Shake It Off’ After Five Years Of Litigation

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Taylor Swift has reached an agreement with two songwriters to end a five-year long copyright lawsuit claiming she stole the lyrics to “Shake It Off” from an earlier song about “playas” and “haters,” resolving one of the music industry’s biggest legal battles without a climactic trial or ruling.

In a joint filing made on Monday in California federal court, attorneys for both Swift and her accusers – songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler – asked a judge for an order “dismissing this action in its entirety.” Before the deal, a trial had been scheduled to kick off in January.

The public filings did not include any specific terms of the apparent settlement, like whether any money exchanged or songwriting credits would be changed. Attorneys for both sides and a rep for Swift did not immediately return requests for comment.

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The agreement means a sudden end for a blockbuster case that seemed headed toward the next landmark ruling on music copyrights. Following legal battles over Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” the case against Swift posed fundamental questions about the limits of copyright protection, with her lawyers arguing that the accusers were trying to “cheat the public domain” by monopolizing basic lyrical phrases.

Hall and Butler first sued way back in 2017, claiming Swift stole her lyrics to “Shake It Off” from their “Playas Gon’ Play,” a song released by R&B group 3LW in 2001. That was no small accusation, given the song in question: “Shake It Off” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 2014 and ultimately spent 50 weeks on the chart, a mega-hit even for one of music’s biggest stars.

In Hall and Butler’s song, the line was “playas, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate”; in Swift’s track, she sings, “‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” In their complaint, the duo said Swift’s lyric was clearly copied from their song.

In the years since, Swift’s attorneys repeatedly pushed to dismiss the case, arguing that a short snippet of lyrics about “players” and “haters” was not creative or unique enough to be covered by copyrights.  They cited more than a dozen earlier songs that had used similar phrases, including 1997’s “Playa Hater” by Notorious B.I.G and 1999’s “Don’t Hate the Player” by Ice-T.

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Swift initially won a decision in 2018 dismissing the case on those grounds, with a federal judge ruling that Hall and Butler’s lyrics were not protected because popular culture in 2001 had had been “heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters.” But an appeals court later overruled that decision, and a judge ruled last year that the case would need to be decided by a jury trial.

“Even though there are some noticeable differences between the works, there are also significant similarities in word usage and sequence/structure,” the judge wrote at the time.

More recently, Swift’s team again asked the judge to dismiss the case, this time making a new argument: That documents turned over during the case had revealed that Hall and Butler voluntarily signed away their right to file the lawsuit in the first place.

In an August filing, Swift’s lawyers said the documents proved that Hall and Butler had granted their music publishers the exclusive rights to bring an infringement lawsuit over the song, meaning they lacked the legal standing to do so. Her lawyers said the pair had even emailed their publishers – Sony Music Publishing and Universal Music Publishing Group, respectively – asking for permission to sue, but that both companies had refused the request.

“After their music publishers refused to assign to plaintiffs the claim they assert in this action, their manager unsuccessfully lobbied a United States Congressman to get a House sub-committee to intervene,” Swift’s lawyers alleged in the filing.

That motion was still pending when Monday’s settlement was filed.

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