Copyright Contracts on Workplace Creations Stick – Even for Taylor Swift

Through every news and social platform, a quick search will yield limitless reports (and plenty of gossip) on Taylor Swift’s recent catalog purchase. The man who bought it for $300 million is the owner of her former label — and she is sickened.

If there is anything to be learned from Swift’s copyright woes, her ordeal demonstrates the sticking power of copyright contracts on your creative work. According to copyright law, all transactions were officially above-board. 

So, what has made for such drama across social media platforms?

Swift Says She Never Got an Opportunity to Own Her Life’s Work

Turns out the Taylor Swift catalog had been on the market for eight months before an offer was accepted, and she and her team never made one. Her former label claims they waited until it was clear she was not interested in making the purchase herself. 

Still, the singer says she was never given an opportunity to buy her masters outright, but only through a continued contract with people she felt she could no longer work with. 

She also said that she never knew about the final deal with Ithica Holdings, which seemed to make it impossible for her to claim rights to her first six albums’ masters.

Music Copyright Law Is Complicated

Copyrights, as they pertain to the music industry, can get sticky fast. Unlike a painting, a book, or graphic design, there is not just a single aspect to most pieces of music. 

According to the US Copyright Office, there are rights to four separate components (and sometimes more):

  • Rights to a “musical work” refer to sheet music, broadsheets, or other forms of notation;
  • The “sound recording” of a musical work can be protected separately;
  • Song lyrics are actually considered a “literary work;”
  • And there is another copyright protection altogether for a “musical score.”

These primary aspects of rights protection for a single creative musical work still do not cover everything. They are separate from other copyrights – published editions or new arrangements of a musical score, for instance.

And then there is this: Swift reported on Good Morning America (GMA) that her contract says starting in November 2020, she can begin re-recording her first five albums. 

How can that happen?

Taylor May Be Taking a Page from the Books of Legends

Although language for every music contract is different, the standard terms are that two years after a label contract expires or five years post-release of an original recording, artists typically have the right to re-record.

Remember when Prince became a symbol? Or when Def Leppard stood up to Universal? These two pioneers found a way to regain previous creative rights through re-recording… eventually. 

While labels seemed to get hip quick to this strategy, perhaps Big Machine, Swift’s former label (and current nemesis) did not. 

The question is… can you ever truly replicate an original work? It will be interesting to see what a difference a few years makes on the new recordings. 

Our Advice? Consult an Experienced Copyright Attorney at Every Step

Although it seems Taylor Swift’s copyrights will be returned to their rightful owner (in some respect) eventually, there was probably a way to avoid all the drama in the first place: by anticipating her future wishes for her creative works from the get-go.

Just goes to show you, the contract development on a musical work is one of the most important aspects of protecting it. 

If your passion is music and you have questions about how to best protect your creative expression, reach out to Marks Gray IP attorney Crystal Broughan at 904-807-2180 or [email protected]