Singer Taylor Swift has won a copyright battle in federal court. United States District Court Judge Gail Standish dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit by musician Jessie Braham. The suit alleged that Swift’s song “Shake it Off” had borrowed extensively from his song “Haters Gone Hate.” Braham was seeking $42 million in damages. The judge’s opinion dismissing the lawsuit without prejudice contained several references to lyrics from Swift’s songs, enough so that Braham would like a different judge next time. Los Angeles entertainment attorney Larry Zerner discusses the lawsuit in this report.
Zerner says that the case was dismissed because it was not properly filed. Plaintiff Braham not only didn’t have a lawyer, he didn’t have the $400 that must be paid in order to file a federal complaint. Braham filed a form with the court seeking to file as a poor person and avoid paying the filing fee. However, a judge who receives such an application must examine the complaint to see if it has any merit. In this case, Judge Standish ruled that the similarity between the two songs as alleged by Braham was not enough on which to base a lawsuit. The common phrases existed prior to Braham’s song. The judge essentially decided that no one could own the phrases for copyright purposes. The judge ruled that the claim as Braham set it out was not sufficient for a finding in his favor. The judge also pointed out that, had Braham paid the filing fee, she would not have examined his complaint.
Braham’s complaint points out that twenty-two word from his song showed up in Swift’s song. Zerner says that, in fact, a few words are repeated several times in order to add up to twenty-two. There are only eight words repeated, says Zerner. The copyright law protects music and lyrics. However, it does not protect short phrases.
As to the quotes from Taylor Swift lyrics in the judge’s order, Zerner says it amounts to almost nothing—a few references in the final paragraph of her order. Zerner thinks that Braham’s inability to get a lawyer to take his case suggests that it may not ever be strong enough to stand up in court.
Larry Zerner is the founder of the Law Offices of Larry Zerner in Los Angeles, California. He is an entertainment lawyer who represents clients in matter relating to entertainment-related contracts as well as copyright and trademark matters. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.