Why Is Taylor Swift Still Being Sued for Her 2014 Hit Single ‘Shake It Off’?

Taylor Swift’s legal battle over the lyrics for her 2014 hit song “Shake It Off” continues.

Jackie Kolgraf
August 9, 2022

Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

In 2014, Taylor Swift released “Shake It Off” as the lead single from her fifth studio album, 1989. Nominated for three GRAMMYs, the song’s writing is officially credited to Swift and two producers, Max Martin and Shellback. “Shake It Off” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent four weeks in that spot (50 total weeks on the chart) and to date, the song’s music video has been viewed over three billion times on YouTube.

Anyone who listened to the radio in 2000 might recognize some familiar-sounding lyrics in “Shake It Off.” Swift’s chorus goes:

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

And the chorus to 3LW’s “Playas Gon’ Play” (one of the 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time, according to Billboard) goes:

Playas, they gonna play
And haters, they gonna hate

Related: Why Are Iconic Artists Selling Their Catalogs?

3LW’s songwriters Sean “Sep” Hall and Nate Butler were not credited in any way on “Shake It Off,” prompting them to sue Swift in September 2017 for copyright infringement. While the case was dismissed in 2018 (the judge considered the lyrics too “banal” to copyright), the ruling was reversed in 2019.

Swift’s legal team filed for a summary judgment motion in 2020, arguing that further evidence had been uncovered that Hall and Butler acknowledged the songs were, in fact, very different. “Plaintiffs admit that ‘Playas’ and ‘Shake It Off’ are very different in their music and also their lyrics,” the new legal filing read. “‘Playas’ is a love song in which ‘so-called friends’ try to break up the singer and her romantic partner, while in ‘Shake It Off’ the singer recounts that people criticize her but she shakes it off and finds comfort in music.”

The judge refused the request for summary judgment in 2021, leading to a third request for dismissal from Swift, this time claiming that “plaintiffs could sue everyone who writes, sings, or publicly says ‘players gonna play’ and ‘haters gonna hate.’ To permit that is unprecedented and cheats the public domain.”

In a sworn declaration filed on August 8, 2022, Swift stated, “The lyrics to ‘Shake It Off’ were written entirely by me. Until learning about Plaintiffs’ claim in 2017, I had never heard the song ‘Playas Gon’ Play’ and had never heard of that song or the group 3LW.” Swift was only 10 years old when the song debuted in 2000, and her mother claims she carefully monitored Swift’s television consumption and didn’t permit her to watch shows like MTV’s Total Request Live.

This lawsuit has been going on for over half a decade. Swift, now 32, believes that the phrases “players gonna play” and “haters gonna hate” have been in “many songs, films, and other work,” becoming too ubiquitous to copyright. “Prior to writing ‘Shake It Off,’ I had heard the phrases … uttered countless times to express the idea that one can or should shrug off negativity,” she wrote.

“It is, unfortunately, not unusual for a hit song to be met by litigants hoping for a windfall based on tenuous claims that their own song was copied,” Peter Anderson, Swift’s current lawyer, added. “But even against that background, Plaintiffs’ claim sticks out as particularly baseless.”