Copyright law is a valuable resource for many artists, and thankfully it can protect creators from those with malicious intent. Ideally, copyright law protects artists from those trying to steal their work, but unfortunately, there are times when quirks in the legal system can make enforcing copyright law a double-edged sword. While we are in no way advocating for abolishing copyright law, we do want to point out cases in which copyright law can have some questionable enforcement.
The Shake It Off Case
We have all heard of Taylor Swift’s mega-hit, well, one of many, Shake It Off, but many might not have known that the song was the center of an extended copyright case in which Taylor Swift was accused of stealing some of her lyrics! Legal representatives for Sean Hall and Nathan Butler filed a suit that claimed Taylor Swift style the hook “the players gonna play, play, play” from the 2000s song “Playas Gon’ Play” written by Hall and Butler. While the case was first submitted in 2017, it was initially dismissed because the lyrics were far too generic to be held under such scrutiny.
However, in 2019 Hall and Butler submitted their case for an appeal. The appeal was granted by the U.S court of appeals for the ninth circuit. What makes this case somewhat questionable is that the judge that had dismissed the case initially, Michael Fitzgerald, had stated that the usage of the lyrics in the song Shake It Off does not carry significant similarities in structure or use.
The interesting note is that the appeal was granted due to Fitzgerald’s initial dismissal being seen as too fast and possibly overlooked when determining if two lines of lyrics could be protected under copyright. This case is questionable because it can set a precedent that can make plaintiffs take advantage by suing artists for creating art around universal or generic concepts.
The Marvin Gaye estate sued Robin Thicke and Pharrel for their song “Blurred Lines,” claiming it had stolen content from Marvin Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up.” The estate of Marvin Gaye won their court battle and was awarded over $7 million, but it is questionable whether or not the ruling was fair.
What possibly gave the Marvin Gaye estate advantage, in this case, was Thicke admitting to wanting to create a song similar to Marvin Gaye, as well as using the song as a reference. It is debated whether that should be enough to claim plagiarism. Some have seen the song, despite its controversy for unrelated matters, as simply having a general tone and atmosphere similar to songs of the 70s but not outright plagiarizing the work. Some could compare the claim of plagiarism in this case to claiming that most major pop music is plagiarized since they use similar chord progressions.
Copyright law is an ever-evolving state, with new rulings changing the landscape almost every year. So if you ever find yourself confused or overwhelmed with a copyright claim of your own, at Nick Lotito & Seth Kirschenbaum we can help! Call (404) 471-3177 today for a consultation.