And the Plaintiffs Gonna Sue: Taylor Swift’s Ongoing Copyright Lawsuits

Julia Heckelman

Taylor Swift is no stranger to highly publicized lawsuits. However, in the last few weeks, two of Swift’s ongoing copyright infringement cases, Hall v. Swift and La Dart v. Swift, have captured substantial media attention.

Hall v. Swift is a copyright infringement case concerning Swift’s hit song, “Shake It Off.”[1] After Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald denied summary judgment to Swift in December 2021, Swift’s team filed a motion for reconsideration, hoping to avoid trial. However, as Rolling Stone reported in September, the judge doubled down on his decision, reiterating that the case would be going to trial in January of 2023 as initially stated.[2]

Plaintiffs Sean Hall and Nathan Butler initiated the Hall v. Swift lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California in 2017.[3] Hall and Butler are identified in the court documents as the co-authors of the song “Playas Gon’ Play” that was released as a single by the group 3LW in 2001. In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that Swift’s “Shake It Off” infringed upon the 3LW song, which saw success on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and television programs.[4]

As reproduced in the district court opinion, the lyrics in “Playas Gon’ Play” muse “Playas, they gon’ play / And haters, they gon’ hate.” It is difficult to deny that the lyrics in “Playas Gon’ Play” bear some resemblance to the catchy chorus in “Shake It Off,” which repeats “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” Specifically, Hall and Butler point to both lyrical and structural similarities between the two hit songs.[5]

The district court outlined that in order to succeed on a copyright infringement claim, the plaintiffs “must demonstrate (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.”[6] Copyright ownership was uncontested in this case. Swift argued in her defense that the phrases in question were in the public domain, but the court was not convinced and determined that the phrases in “Playas Gon’ Play” were sufficiently original.[7]

To establish that the works are substantially similar, the key test in a copyright infringement case is whether the plaintiffs relied upon the presence of parallel word usage and sequencing choices in “Shake It Off” and “Playas Gon’ Play.”[8] Although the opinion notes that Swift’s experts “make some persuasive arguments” that the two pieces are distinguishable, Swift ultimately failed to fully convince the court that the songs were not substantially similar.[9] Determining that there were issues of triable fact in the suit’s “battle of the experts,” the district court decided to ultimately send the case to trial.[10]

In another copyright infringement lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in late August, plaintiff Teresa La Dart alleged that Swift infringed upon La Dart’s book, Lover, a compilation of writings published in 2010, to produce the book that accompanied Swift’s album, Lover. The alleged substantial similarities described by La Dart in her complaint include:  (1) the format combining written and pictorial components, (2) the pose, color scheme, and title featured on the cover, (3) the introduction page formats, (4) the inner book design with interspersed photographs and writing, and (5) the pose and color scheme of the back cover. La Dart requested a judgment for damages in excess of one million dollars.[11]

Given Swift’s prowess in the entertainment industry, it is no surprise that she is the target of multiple lawsuits. In the next few months, it will be worth noting the progression of both Hall v. Swift and La Dart v. Swift, especially now that Hall v. Swift will be in the hands of a jury. Hopefully no “Bad Blood” will follow between the dueling artists.


[1] Hall v. Swift, No. CV 17-6882-MWF (ASX), 2021 WL 6104160, at *1 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 9, 2021)

[2] Nancy Dillon, Judge Denies Taylor Swift’s Last-Ditch Request to Spike ‘Shake It Off’ Copyright Lawsuit, Rolling Stone (Sept. 12, 2022), [] [].

[3] Hall v. Swift, No. CV 17-6882-MWF (ASX), 2021 WL 6104160, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 9, 2021)

[4] Id. at *1.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. (citing Benay v. Warner Bros. Entm’t, Inc., 607 F.3d 620, 624 (9th Cir. 2010)).

[7] Id. at *3.

[8] Id. at *4.

[9] Id. at 5

[10] Id. at 5–6

[11] La Dart v. Swift, No. 2:22CV02552, 2022 WL 3648369 (W.D. Tenn. Aug. 23, 2022).