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What to Learn From Taylor Swift About Intellectual Property

If you are a Taylor Swift fan, or you happen to listen to hits radio, you may have noticed that the megastar is re-releasing many of her older songs with the suffix “Taylor’s Version” appended to the titles.

This is not just a clever marketing play to help her fans relive special moments without having to write new material (though it also functions as such) — it is, in fact, the result of an intellectual property mishap relating to the ownership of her previous recordings.

The IP attorneys at Patterson Thuente share the important details of the case, as well as what creators should learn about protecting their assets.

So, What Happened?

It all began, as it so often does in the music industry, with a contract. Swift signed with record label Big Machine records in 2005 — a deal that helped pave the way for her chart-topping career. As a new player in the industry, she was largely unknown, and working with a renowned label offered her an opportunity to advance her career. However, one of the stipulations in the contract was that Big Machine would own the rights to the sound recordings, in perpetuity, developed over the tenure of the contract.

After the deal ended in 2018, Swift moved on and signed to a different label. Her recordings made over the 13 years stayed with Big Machine, and the label sold the rights to them for $300 million — a total of which Swift received no share. Though she wrote and performed the songs, she had sold away the rights to those recordings. Thus, every time they were played, she was left out of the payment schedule.

However, Swift still owned the copyrights to the lyrics and melody of the songs she had written. So, in the last few years, she has dedicated most of her time to re-recording these songs and releasing them as the “Taylor’s Version” cuts. As these new recordings are streamed, she earns revenue. Because this situation has been so widely publicized, many of her fans have rallied around her and vowed only to listen to the new editions.

What Can We Learn?

This case provides several important lessons to creators about the importance of intellectual property rights. Situations such as these while not usually on the same scale, are relatively common in the entertainment industry. Here’s what artists and inventors should consider:

1. Intellectual property is valuable. Few people, including Taylor herself, could have predicted that her recordings would later be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The access to those funds was solely linked to ownership, which Taylor signed away. It stands to reason that the majority of a creator’s value, therefore, lies in the rights to their ideas and work product. The ownership of one’s intellectual property is absolutely vital.

2. Contracts have enormous ramifications. The document that Swift signed in 2005 is still affecting her life (and the music industry) today. Creators should never rush to sign a contract before consulting a legal professional and fully understanding the future implications of each clause. In the case of Taylor Swift, what happened was entirely legal and even expected based on the contract she signed.

3. Brands and influence are immensely powerful. Because Swift had amassed such a huge following of loyal fans, the fallout with Big Machine was survivable. Her brand is so strong and recognizable that she will continue to enjoy a fruitful music career despite being stripped of the rights to some of her most influential work.

As a closing note, while she may have missed out on an enormous sum, this doesn’t necessarily mean that signing the contract was a bad idea. The record deal afforded Swift a level of exposure and promotion that she may not have achieved independently, and although she largely missed out on the financial gains of the project, it helped establish her career and cement her place as one of the most successful artists of all time.

Learn More about IP

Connect with experienced IP lawyers today to learn about protecting your intellectual property, as well as gain industry insights and professional recommendations. The attorneys at Patterson Thuente IP are here to help you navigate the sphere of intellectual property law to make sure your rights are protected and any accusations are addressed properly and efficiently. Our team of experienced attorneys stands ready to help you with your unique situation. Contact us today:


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