Can Tay Tay shake it off?

Can Tay Tay shake it off?
US pop star Taylor Swift.
PHOTO: The New Paper

When Taylor Swift sang the line "haters gonna hate" in her 2014 megahit Shake It Off, little did she realise it would lead to a US$42 million (S$59.8 million) lawsuit.

US R&B artist Jesse Braham, whose stage name is Jesse Graham, is suing the 25-year-old US pop star, claiming the line was taken from his 2013 slow-jam song Haters Gone Hate.

It contains the lyrics: "Haters gone hate, playas gone play. Watch out for them fakers, they'll fake you everyday."

In comparison, Swift's chorus has the lines: "Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/ And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate."

Braham, 50, told the New York Daily News: "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."

He added that there was "no way" Swift could have written those lyrics independently of his song.


Having heard both songs, I'm convinced he does not.

Aside from the lyrical similarities, they are as different as chalk and cheese.

I'm surprised Braham thinks he has a personal claim to the phrases "haters gonna hate" and "players gonna play." They are common street slang, and have been around before 2013.

Mr Melvin Tan, 60, licensing manager for COMPASS (Composers And Authors Society Of Singapore), explained that music copyright infringement is defined as taking a part of someone's song, such as a chorus or a prominent part of a song, without permission.

"The part of the song taken must be recognisable as belonging to another song, which listeners can easily tell or relate to," he told M.

"Claiming copyright infringement for lyrics can be more problematic. It is an uphill task, as there are many generic words and common phrases used for song lyrics.

"That can make it hard to say that a particular phrase of words belongs to you, unless it's very clear-cut."

Music history is littered with artists who have sued one another for song copyright infringement.

In January, English singer Sam Smith agreed to give co-writing credit for his single Stay With Me to US singer Tom Petty and songwriter Jeff Lynne, after it emerged that their song I Won't Back Down had a similar chorus to Smith's.

And in March, a jury awarded soul singer Marvin Gaye's family US$7.4 million in damages, ruling that US music duo Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had copied Gaye's song Got To Give It Up for their 2013 hit, Blurred Lines.

Because all new music is derivative, often borrowing from older tunes, it can be hard to avoid copyright claims, whether they're successful or not.

"Everything that's around you in a room was inspired by something or someone," Williams, 42, told The Financial Times. "If you kill that, there's no creativity."

Meanwhile, we're not too worried about Swift. She'll probably brush off this lawsuit, as she does with unwarranted online speculation about her life.

At her concert last Sunday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, she told the audience she had started living a more carefree life a few years ago.

"The biggest element in my life that I decided to change was caring so much about the opinions of people who absolutely had not a care in the world for if they ruined my day," she said.

"And I think that when I stopped caring so much about what people I didn't know thought about me, things got easier, things got better, I became happier, I wrote (my latest album) 1989."

So there you have it.

If there's anyone who knows how to shake off any negativity, it's Tay Tay.

Other copyright disputes


The dispute: US instrumental guitarist Satriani sued the British rock band for copyright infringement, claiming Viva La Vida used "substantial original portions" from his song. Coldplay said any similarities were "entirely coincidental, and just as surprising to us as to him".

The verdict: The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.


The dispute: Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, the writers of The Air That I Breathe, claimed the English rockers' signature song shared similarities in chord progression and vocal melodies.

The verdict: The duo successfully sued Radiohead and earned co-writer credits for the song.

They also got a share of the royalties.


The dispute: The US rapper sampled Under Pressure for his No. 1 hit Ice Ice Baby without permission, changing the rhythm of the bassline to avoid detection of similarities.

The verdict: Since the sample was clearly stolen, the plagiarism case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

This article was first published on November 11, 2015.
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