Copyright in Lyrics: The Case of Taylor Swift

There was an article in The Guardian today that discusses the $42m lawsuit against Taylor Swift by Jesse Graham. Firstly, before we start – here are the videos of the two tracks in question – Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ and Graham’s ‘Haters Gone Hate’

Graham claims that the lyrics during the chorus of ‘Shake it Off’ are based on his ‘Haters Gone Hate’. He commented

“Her hook is the same hook as mine, if I didn’t write the song Haters Gone Hate, there wouldn’t be a song called Shake It Off”.

Anyone with little to no musical knowledge can hear that the songs have no musical similarity – but can the lyrics of Swift’s song honestly be regarded as plagiarising Graham’s?  Firstly, a simple search in Spotify reveals another song entitled ‘Haters Gone Hate’ – featuring Deacon Dee, plus a number of songs with the title ‘Haters Gonna Hate’ – for example ‘Haters Gonna Hate’ by Hipteen

spotify:track:5yTw0D1YnAQF15S18gbOWz

Technically – should these songs be included in the case too? Although I am an advocate of copyright laws and intellectual property protection, surely we have to get to the point where these sort of claims are simply kicked out of course well before they get there. If this sort of litigation continues, it can only have a negative impact on creativity.

To give an indicative example, one of my favourite songs – ‘Every Breath You Take’ by Sting’

This can be seen to have a clear, I would argue subliminal influence by a much  earlier song by Gene Pitney – also entitled ‘Every Breath I Take”

Although both songs have the same catch line – it would be ridiculous to claim that Pitney  could claim a percentage of the Sting song. This same is true for this case from Graham. I hope I am right – for the sake and sanity of the music industry

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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