Fed Judge to Taylor Swift: “However banal, play on playa!”

(Note:  this post originally ran on February 25.  Today, March 1, I’m updating it to reflect a reader’s report that “player” and “hater” aren’t the first words to code. The update appears at the end of the post.)

Two of the most read posts in the history of Ethical Grounds are my #fiveforfriday posts on Taylor Swift and My Cousin Vinny.

The nation’s federal judges are slowly but surely starting to speak this blog’s language!

Last year, an appeals court issued an opinion in which it cited to Judge Chamberlain HallerThen, last week, a federal judge dismissed a copyright claim that had been filed against Taylor Swift.  The story has been covered by the ABA Journal, Washington Post, and Hollywood Reporter.

Plaintiffs Sean Hall and Nathan Butler alleged that Swift lifted the chorus to her hit Shake It Off from their 2001 song Playas Gon’ Play.  The hook to this blog: stealing lyrics (copyright infringement) is the music industry’s equivalent of a disbarrable offense.

Anyhow, in the Swift case, the plaintiffs’ 2001 work included the following lyrics: Playas, they gonna play/ And haters, they gonna hate / Ballers, they gonna ball / Shot callers, they gonna call / That ain’t got nothin’ to do / With me and you / That’s the way it is /That’s the way it is.”

For you non-Swifties, Taylor’s Shake It Off  debuted at #1 in September 2014.  Its chorus begins: “Cause players gonna play, play, play, play, play.  Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” But Taylor’s just gonna shake it off, shake it off.

And shake it off she did per this opinion from U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald.

As noted by the Washington Post, Judge Fitzerald’s order is “peppered with judicial shade.”  In other words, with the opinion, Judge Fitzgerald staked a claim as the federal judiciary’s leading baller, shot caller.  (I have no idea if he’s got 20 inch blades on the Impala.)

Fitzgerald opened by taking judicial notice of a series of songs whose lyrics refer to “players” and “haters.” The list includes Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams (“players only love you when they’re playing”), Outkast’s debut single Player’s Ball, and Notorious B.I.G.’s Playa Hater.

Then, after reciting law and stuff, Fitzgerald got to the crux of the matter:

  • “Plaintiffs argue that their short phrase – ‘Playas, they gonna play/And haters,they gonna hate’ – is sufficiently creative to warrant protection. The Court disagrees.”

He went on:

  • “The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal. In the early 2000s, popular culture was adequately suffused withthe concepts of players and haters to render the phrases ‘playas … gonna play’ or ‘haters … gonna hate,’ standing on their own, no more creative than ‘runners gonna run,’ ‘drummers gonna drum,’ or ‘swimmers gonna swim.’ Plaintiffs therefore hinge their creativity argument, and their entire case, on the notion that the combination of  ‘playas, they gonna play’ and ‘haters, they gonna hate’ is sufficiently creative towarrant copyright protection.”

Almost there:

  • “It is hardly surprising that Plaintiffs, hoping to convey the notion that one should persist regardless of others’ thoughts or actions, focused on both players playing and haters hating when numerous recent popular songs had each addressed the subjects of players,haters, and player haters, albeit to convey different messages than Plaintiffs were trying to convey. In short, combining two truisms about playas and haters, both well-worn notions as of 2001, is simply not enough.”

And the coup de grace:

  • “To explicitly state the [plaintiffs’] argument is to see how banal the asserted creativity is. In sum, the lyrics at issue – the only thing that Plaintiffs allege Defendants copied – are too brief, unoriginal, and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act.”

Hammer don’t hurt ’em!

There you have it folks.  A federal court has announced that players and haters are so over.  Banal.  Unoriginal.  Lacking in creativity. Lit? Not.

An era has ended.

By the way, how about the plaintiffs’ onions?  Check out the lyrics that they sought to protect from “infringement”:

  • “Playas, they gonna play/ And haters, they gonna hate / Ballers, they gonna ball / Shot callers, they gonna call / That ain’t got nothin’ to do / With me and you / That’s the way it is /That’s the way it is.”

Blatantly ripped off from both Lil’ Troy and Bruce Hornsby!

Here’s the update: a Linkedin follower points out that, long before player and hater suffered their demises, noted record producer Rick Rubin held a funeral for the word “def.”  World of Pop Culture has the story here.