Post Authored By: Hannah Werner
When most people think of Grammy award-winning artist Taylor Swift, a few things may come to mind. For some, it would be her recent success with the Eras tour or the accompanying Ticketmaster fiasco. For others, it may be a long and successful career spanning various genres. But many lawyers think of how the star taught her fans about copyright law.
In 2019, music mogul Scooter Braun bought Big Machine Records for $330 million. With his purchase of the record company, Braun became the proud new owner of Swift’s first six albums, their accompanying copyrights, music videos, and artwork. Although Swift tried to purchase her albums for years prior to the buyout from Braun, she noted that the conditions offered in exchange were unfavorable and led to the record company keeping control. Swift then noted that she did not know Braun would be the new owner of her masters and denounced the moves from Big Machine Records, president and CEO Scott Borchetta, and Scooter Braun.
Due to her strong feelings about the sale of her own masters, Swift set fire to the music industry when she announced that she would re-record the records that Braun purchased. Since then, Taylor Swift released Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version) with both albums breaking several chart, sales, and streaming records.
It is important to note that Swift (and similar artists) signed contracts stating the rights to their music clearly goes to record companies, we should also acknowledge the power play that record labels can use against artists trying to make it in an industry often working against them. These artists are often just trying to break into the music industry and do not have the leverage to own their music outright when they are first starting out. By offering artists a break into the industry, record companies can exert power over performers so the performers may not own the music, making the corporations more money.
However, it is important to note that owning the music outright is what makes record companies the most money. If artists are allowed to own their music instead of the record company, record deals likely will not be as generous as they are now. This may lead to fewer smaller artists signing deals with record companies, as they do not have the money that they used to have when they owned other artists’ music. But this is not stopping artists like Taylor Swift from demanding the rights to their work.
As one of the (if not the single) biggest artists in the industry right now, Taylor Swift is offering her experiences with Big Machine Records and Scooter Braun as a learning lesson to the artists coming after her. While she is upheaving the industry with her re-records, Swift is influencing artists newer to the industry to negotiate the rights to their music before it is too late.
About the Author:
In May of 2020, Hannah graduated with a B.A. in Public Relations and a B.A. in Psychology from Auburn University. After working at Ankin Law Office for almost a year, Hannah discovered an interest in law and joined the Chicago-Kent community. Hannah is currently a 2L representative for the Society of Women in Law, as well as a member of various organizations matching her passions, such as the First-Generation Law Student Association and the Chicago Kent Animal Legal Defense Fund. Following graduation, Hannah looks forward to a career in estate planning, real estate, or business law.