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Taylor Swift files in Shake It Off copyright lawsuit: ‘The lyrics were written entirely by me’

Taylor Swift pictured in 2014.
‘I wanted to provide a comedic, empowering approach to helping people feel better about negative criticism’ … Taylor Swift pictured in 2014. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Taylor Swift has defended herself as the sole writer of her 2014 hit Shake It Off in response to a lawsuit claiming that she plagiarised lyrics from the 2000 song Playas Gon’ Play by girl group 3LW.

“The lyrics to Shake It Off were written entirely by me,” Swift stated in a sworn declaration filed on Monday. “Until learning about Plaintiffs’ claim in 2017, I had never heard the song Playas Gon’ Play and had never heard of that song or the group 3LW.”

Playas Gon’ Play songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler filed the copyright suit in 2017, citing similarities between the lines “playas gonna play” and “haters gonna hate”.

It was dismissed in 2018, with a judge commenting that the lyrics were “too banal” to be copied, but resurrected by an appeal panel in 2021.

In December, a judge refused Swift’s request to dismiss the case, citing “enough objective similarities” between the two songs for a jury to settle the matter.

“Our clients are finally moving closer to the justice they so richly deserve,” their lawyer Marina Bogorad said at the time. “The opinion … is especially gratifying to them because it reinforces the idea that their creativity and unique expression cannot be misappropriated without any retribution.”

In writing the lyrics, Swift stated in her motion, she drew partly on “experiences in my life and, in particular, unrelenting public scrutiny of my personal life, ‘clickbait’ reporting, public manipulation, and other forms of negative personal criticism which I learned I just needed to shake off and focus on my music.”

Having started out as a country artist, Swift had become a mainstream pop star after the release of her 2012 album, Red, which brought with it intensive tabloid speculation about her personal and romantic life.

Swift continued: “With Shake It Off, I wanted to provide a comedic, empowering approach to helping people feel better about negative criticism through music, dance, and the personal independence enabling one to just shake off the negative criticism.”

The lyrics also drew from what she called “commonly used phrases and comments heard” throughout her life, including “players gonna play” and “haters gonna hate”, her awareness of which stemmed back to her school days.

She denied the possibility of having heard the 3LW song, which reached No 81 on the US Billboard charts, in any form of media or social setting. She stated that her parents did not allow her to watch MTV’s Total Request Live until she was “about 13 years old”: the 3LW hit first appeared on an album in 2000, when Swift was 10.

Her mother, Andrea Swift, also filed a statement saying that she “carefully monitored both the television [Swift] watched and the music she heard” as well as the shared home computer. “Taylor did not attend sleepovers at friends’ houses as a young girl because we lived on a farm until she was 10 years old and I always preferred having friends come over to our home.”

In the new motion, Swift’s lawyer, Peter Anderson, wrote: “It is, unfortunately, not unusual for a hit song to be met by litigants hoping for a windfall based on tenuous claims that their own song was copied. But even against that background, Plaintiffs’ claim sticks out as particularly baseless.”

Following publication, Hall and Butler said in a statement: “This is defendants’ fourth attempt to make these claims go away, so defendants’ labelling them as baseless rings hollow at this point.

“The law does not believe in pure coincidences, especially where, as here, the two works are so strikingly similar that Ms Taylor’s denial of access makes no difference to the outcome.

“Plaintiffs are confident that there are abundant factual issues for their claims to reach the jury, as it is not up to the court to weigh in on credibility issues or crown the winner in the battle of the experts.”

• This article was amended on 9 August 2022. Swift was aged 10, not 11, when 3LW’s hit appeared on their 2000 self-titled album.

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