Taylor Swift claims two rival experts tapped to testify at her upcoming “Shake It Off” copyright infringement trial are “not qualified” to take the witness stand and should be blocked by the “gatekeeper” judge.
In a new motion obtained by Rolling Stone, the superstar argues one of the challenged witnesses has failed to give a legitimate basis for his claim that 50% of “Shake It Off’s” profits are attributable to the “players play” and “haters hate” phrases that songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler allege were stolen from their 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play,” written for the all-female R&B trio 3LW.
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Swift, who claims the phrases are public domain, also says the disputed expert, Bob Kohn, should be barred from sharing his opinion that Swift’s song would lose all “force, meaning and energy” without the phrases.
“[Kohn] is a lawyer who plays no musical instruments and claims expertise because he saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and—like most if not all of us—listens to music,” the new motion that was filed Monday on Swift’s behalf by lawyers Peter Anderson, Sean M. Sullivan and Eric Lamm at Davis Wright Tremaine argues.
“His deposition testimony confirms he is simply making it up as he goes along,” the lawyers said of Kohn, a New York-based lawyer who authored a book on music licensing.
Swift’s motion further claims that a George Washington University musicology professor also slated to testify for Hall and Butler has no training in “comparative literary analysis.” Swift’s side claims such expertise is necessary because the lawsuit makes no claim related to “Shake It Off’s” musical composition, only its “substantially similar” lyrics.
“He does not have any understanding as to the methodology used in the comparative linguistic analysis of two works. He also does not teach literature or poetry and has never written a song or lyrics,” the motion reads.
The lawsuit, originally filed in 2017, was initially dismissed by U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald in 2018, but it was revived on appeal and returned to his court by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Fitzgerald has yet to rule on Swift’s request to bar the experts.
“Taylor and the other defendants have filed dozens of motions to avoid facing the merits of this case. We believe the court will see through this blizzard of filings to allow justice to light the way forward,” Hall and Butler’s lawyer Gerard Fox said in a statement to Rolling Stone on Wednesday.
In Hall and Butler’s song, the allegedly infringed lyrics are, “playas, they gonna play,” and “haters, they gonna hate.” According to Swift and her lawyers, the short phrases are free for everyone to use. In her song, the lyrics state, “Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”
A rep for Swift previously called the lawsuit a shakedown.
“These men are not the originators, or creators, of the common phrases ‘Players’ or ‘Haters’ or combinations of them. They did not invent these common phrases nor are they the first to use them in a song,” the rep told Rolling Stone. “Their claim is not a crusade for all creatives, it is a crusade for Mr. Hall’s bank account.”
The trial is set to begin January 17, 2023.
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