• Startups
  • November 12, 2015

Taylor Swift 'Shakes Off' Copyright infringement claim.

By Lawbite Team

Talk to a Lawyer Free Legal Help
Being one of the best earning pop stars has many upsides but being a lawsuit target is certainly not one of them. Taylor Swift, who is well known in the industry from being extremely protective of her brand, has now been sued by Jesse Braham (stage name: Jesse Graham) over the lyrics to “Shake It Off”. The R&B star claims that its chorus: "Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate " was taken from his song "haters gonna hate, players gonna play." What's more, Braham claims that if he “did not write the song Haters Gone Hate, there would not be a song called Shake It Off.” Given that “Shake It Off” won Favorite Song at the 2015 People’s Choice Awards and received 2 Grammy Awards nominations, the stakes are rather high.

Whose side is the law on? What can be copyrighted?

There are already dozens of articles with professional comments stating that the Braham’s lawsuit has no merits. Copyright arises automatically upon artistic work creation like a poem, book, film, music, picture, software or lyrics of a song. However, in order for any work to be copyrighted, it must exhibit a degree of labor, skill or judgement. Given that the phrases in question are quite common in every day language, it is highly unlikely that the case will hold up.


Alternatives to copyright

There is no copyright in a name, title, slogan or phrase per se. However, they all can be registered as trade marks so the situation would have gone 180 degrees if Braham had done that. There are certain criteria that have to be met to register a trademark:

  • A mark needs to be new which means that not only must it not be already registered as a trade mark in any other country but also be used as an unregistered trade mark. Even if registration of such a mark was successful, the previous user would have a right to seek invalidation of the mark.
  • A mark cannot be descriptive for goods & services it is submitted for, e.g. “Apple” is a perfect mark for computers and electronics but it would be seen as descriptive if protection was sought for a grocery store.
  • A mark needs to be distinctive so it has to allow a potential customer to indicate origins of goods & services offered under that brand.
Given the above, Taylor Swift and her team made a brilliant move last year. They have filed more than 30 trade mark applications in her name with the US Patent and Trademark Office for a wide range of goods & services relating to entertainment services, toys, hair accessories, cosmetics, clothing and others. The protection is sought for the most catchy phrases from Taylor’s 1989 World Tour album including: “This sick beat”, “Party like it’s 1989”, “Swiftstakes” and more. None of them has been registered yet but once they are, they will certainly serve a bigger purpose: to create another stream of licensing revenue.

IP strategy for creative industries

I followed actions of Taylor Swift’s lawyers and advisors for some time now. Not only with curiosity, but almost admiration. Her team has never been afraid to pursue legal actions (see: Etsy case) or make unpopular decisions. Her fans were not particularly happy with the decision to pull Taylor’s music from Spotify but it is hard to argue that streaming became a serious issue. It is significantly less lucrative from purchasing music so such a shift in creative industries has forced artists to seek alternative ways to protect and monetize on intellectual property. Taylor Swift and her team are not the only ones to realize this need but they are certainly working very hard to take the lead and become a flagship example of a successful and diverse intellectual property strategy.

Returning to Braham’s legal action, even if he doesn’t see a dime from the $42 millions he is seeking as compensation, he already got far more than that: priceless publicity.

Natalia Korek -LawBite Intellectual Property LawBrief. For further legal advice you can contact Natalia via our online legal advice portal.

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

Related Articles

Read more of our latest blog posts, featuring all the latest legal news, analysis and opinion from our expert lawyers.

blog image
  • By Lawbite Team
  • July 27, 2021
Setting up a Limited Company UK: a guide for businesses

As a business owner, you may want to learn about the business legal structure known as a limited company. A limited company has a separate legal id...

blog image
  • By Lawbite Team
  • July 02, 2021
How to register a business name

Business names, otherwise known as trading names, are the name by which your business organisation is known. Often this will be the same as your ow...

Intellectual Property
blog image
  • By Lawbite Team
  • July 02, 2021
How To Protect Your Business Ideas

Many intangible business assets fall into one of the protectable categories of intellectual property. Distinctive branding features or inventions,...

Intellectual Property

LawBite can help you

LawBite is on a mission to provide business legal advice that is easier to access, clearer to understand and much cheaper. Our on-line legal advice platform can quickly connect you with expert business legal advice. Our friendly, highly qualified business lawyers, solicitors and mediators will give you the guidance and reassurance that comes from customised legal advice for small and medium sized business.

Whether you are bringing or defending a legal claim, outsourcing work, want a business contract review to ward off disagreements, talk to an expert trademark lawyer, resolve a contractual dispute with methods like mediation and arbitration, or getting your new company set up and on the right footing with a robust shareholder agreement and GDPR standards, we can help you succeed.

defend a claim

Talk to a Lawyer

Book a Call
defend a claim

Essentials Plan