A US judge has dismissed a copyright case against Taylor Swift on the basis that the copyright work - a short line from a song - lacks originality.
The plaintiffs claimed that Swift's song "Shake It Off" infringed copyright in their earlier song "Playas Gon' Play". In particular, they argued that Swift's lyrics "players gonna play..." and "haters gonna hate..." copied their own lyrics "playas, they gonna play, and haters, they gonna hate".
The judge found that the plaintiffs' lyrics lacked the necessary degree of originality to be capable of copyright protection because they were "too brief, unoriginal and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act". He considered that the concept of an actor doing what they are designed to do (i.e. a player playing) was "banal" rather than creative and the combination of two such ideas in one lyric (a player playing and a hater hating) did not impute any additional originality.
Originality is an important hurdle to overcome when bringing an action for copyright infringement. A work will only be protected by copyright if it is sufficiently 'original'. In New Zealand, the threshold for originality is low, but it does require that some degree of skill and labour was applied in creating the copyright work. Names, titles, single words and headlines will usually not meet this test, and a single, brief line in a song may also fall short.
A number of articles have since poked fun at Swift's "unoriginal" and "banal" lyrics. However, in this case, being unoriginal seems to have worked in her favour!
"The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal... The allegedly infringed lyrics are short phrases that lack the modicum of originality and creativity required for copyright protection"