‘You belong with me’ sang Taylor Swift in 2009 on her second studio album Fearless. But in a bitter twist of copyright law, Swift’s Billboard-topping hit and her early back catalogue does not belong to her but to external investors.
In a move that is ‘sweeter than fiction’, Taylor Swift is re-recording her back catalogue to reclaim her copyright. But will she end up with ‘teardrops on her guitar’, and is there more she could do to leave her royalties ‘safe and sound’?
Howard Ricklow, Partner and media lawyer at Collyer Bristow comments.
“Taylor Swift signed her record deal with Big Machine when she was just 15. As is usually the case, Big Machine, a Universal company, owns the copyright in the sound recordings and can generally do what it like with them. In fact, it sold her albums to Ithaca Holdings in 2019, a company owned by Scooter Braun, who is Arianna Grande and Justine Bieber’s manager.
“Swift has repeatedly accused Braun of bullying her and was angry when Universal sold her recordings. She claimed she was trying to buy them herself but was ignored. Since then, Braun has sold the recordings for US$300m to another company, Shamrock Holdings.
“To ensure that royalties do ‘belong with me’, she has decided to re-record all her albums, looking to prevent Braun from profiting from the exploitation of the recordings.
“As is commonly the case, Swift would have been prevented from re-recording the songs under the terms of “Re-recording Restrictions” under the deal with Big Machine. Typically, however, they would last between three to six years, so she is broadly free to re-record.
“An obstacle to that may be if the co-writers of her songs objected to her re-recording them. That too is unlikely since under both US and UK copyright practice once a song has been recorded then generally anyone could record covers of those songs.
“She could go further and put pressure on broadcasters and streaming services to only play her new recordings, reducing revenues from her earlier recordings. Fans have already started to block her old songs on streaming platforms and at least one major radio station has said it will no longer play her earlier recordings.
“Swift has shown the power recording artists increasingly have over their music, the dissatisfaction with contracts signed when very young, and the steps they are prepared to take to ensure they own the rights and royalties of the music they create.”
About Collyer Bristow LLP
- Collyer Bristow LLP is a long-established law firm based in London, providing a wide range of legal services to high net worth individuals and SMEs. The firm has a particular reputation for its Private Wealth, Real Estate, Intellectual Property, Media/Entertainment and Dispute Resolution services.
- The firm has 85 fee earners which includes 30 partners. The firm and its individual lawyers are ranked in both Chambers and the Legal 500 directories.
- The firm has an office in Geneva, supporting its Private Wealth practice, and is able to provide advice to international clients across multiple jurisdictions.
- The firm’s highly experienced partners offer in-depth expertise and industry knowledge in commercial and residential real estate, corporate and commercial, dispute resolution, reputation management, employment, IP, insolvency, divorce and tax and estate planning.
- The ethos at Collyer Bristow is one of ‘personal’ service. All partners are professional yet approachable, working directly with clients to offer high quality legal advice as well as tailoring services to their individual needs. The firm’s core objective is to deliver consistently excellent services to clients.
- The firm has been championing emerging talent in contemporary art for almost thirty years. It supports and promotes young artists through its in-house art gallery and independently curated exhibition programme.