Taylor Swift’s 2014 hit “Shake It Off” infringes a California songwriter’s earlier song, “Haters Gone Hate,” the songwriter alleged in his third copyright lawsuit against Swift in the last two years.
New Day Worldwide Inc., which owns the music of R&B and soul artist Jesse Graham, said Swift’s song rips off Graham’s lyrics, “Haters gone hate +Haters gone hate, Playas gone play Playas gone play.” The Nov. 20 allegations in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California complaint echo two previously dismissed suits filed by Graham, who hasn’t been represented by an attorney in any of the cases.
The lawsuit shows how incentives for copyright litigation escalate with a song’s success, with even a sliver of a revenue share representing a huge potential windfall. And while Graham had already sued twice, attorneys said an appellate court’s October revival of another lawsuit against Swift related to her hit song could ramp up litigation, with courts increasingly reluctant to dismiss claims.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Oct. 28 reversed a dismissal of a different suit’s allegations that the “Shake It Off” chorus infringed. It found a district court judge improperly relied on his subjective judgment in axing that 2017 suit brought by Sean Hall and Nathan Butler. The artists said Swift copied their 2001 lyrics “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate.”
U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald had said the lyrics didn’t merit copyright protection because Hall and Butler’s twist on the oft-used terms was “banal” and “not at all creative.” He noted lyrics from more than a dozen other song titles and band names that reference players, haters, or both that already existed in 2001.
Graham’s latest complaint, which comes less than a month after the Ninth Circuit reversal, said 20% of Swift’s song relied on his 2013 lyrics. He said Swift “undoubtedly had access” to his work, which he said was available on various online platforms. He requested $42 million in damages.
Graham’s first two suits against Swift, her label, and other collaborators were dismissed because he repeatedly failed to properly serve Swift with the complaint. The second suit, filed in October 2018, was dismissed in May with prejudice.
The judge in the second suit provided Graham information on services that help pro se litigants.
Causes of Action: Copyright infringement.
Relief: Damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees.
Response: Taylor Swift’s representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.
Attorneys: Pro se.
The case is New Day Worldwide Inc. v. Taylor Swift, C.D. Cal., No. 19-9948, Complaint 11/20/19