On August 18, 2014, Taylor Swift dropped her pop hit “Shake It Off,” the first single off of her fifth full-length album, 1989. Despite her lyrics telling listeners who do not classify themselves as “Swifties” that she would “shake it off,” the haters still hate, hate, hated her new single. But some did more than criticize Taylor’s new song. Some proceeded to file suit.

Over a year after releasing “Shake It Off,” Jesse Braham filed a complaint against Taylor, her label, and others, alleging copyright infringement of his song “Haters Gone Hate.” Judge Standish, for the United States District Court for the Central District of California, dismissed his claim for failure to allege a copyright claim, noting that lyrics of a musical work can be copyrighted but that “originality remains the sine qua non of copyright.

On September 18, 2017, Sean Hall and Nathan Butler filed suit against Taylor on similar grounds, again in the Central District of California. As songwriters for 3LW’s 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play,” they allege that Taylor copies their “four part lyrical sequence” ­— “playas, haters, callers, and ballers” versus Taylor’s “players, haters, heartbreakers, and fakers.” They allege their use of these terms was completely original and unique in 2001, despite the commonplace nature of the usage today.

While Hall and Butler provide more specific allegations than Braham, they face one procedural obstacle that Braham did not: the statute of limitations for civil copyright actions requires commencement of a suit “within three years of the claim’s accrual.” Under Ninth Circuit precedent, accrual occurs when the copyright holder discovered, or reasonably could have discovered, the infringement. The copyright holder, however, is not barred “if [1] the copyright plaintiff was unaware of the infringement, and [2] that lack of knowledge was reasonable under the circumstances.

Hall and Butler will likely have a hard time proving that they could not have reasonably discovered “Shake It Off” until over a month after its release, as the single topped the Billboard Hot 100 and was performed at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards within 1-week of release. Unless they succeed in extending this three-year window, it’s likely they will soon receive the same message Taylor sent fans on August 24, 2017: “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s dead.

— Mitchell Galloway

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