WASHINGTON, June 27, 2015 – She is stunningly beautiful, most will agree, an above average singer and entertainer, clearly among some of the leading recording artists in the world, an extraordinarily savvy businesswoman and a master in using the law to her benefit.
Swift just took on Apple, Inc., and before it started, she won.
Before a lawsuit was filed, Apple, one of the most powerful companies in the world and a giant in all things technology, backed down. Apple has a reputation of never backing down in a courtroom, particularly when it comes to protecting or asserting itself. They did here, to an open “love” letter Swift wrote, asking – repeat – asking, (not telling or threatening them) to change a planned roll-out of a new music streaming service.
Apple planned on providing subscribers a three-month trial, beginning next week, where listeners would get music for free. Apple did not plan on paying the artists, writers or producers any royalties during the free trial period.
Swift’s letter told Apple she would not allow access to her latest album, “1989.”
Swift cited and advocated for “the new artist,” the “young songwriter” and the “producer,” none of whom would be paid under Apple’s plan, and who, unlike Swift, could less afford to work for free.
She wrote, “we don’t ask for you for free iPhones; please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”
Apple agreed to pay the royalties, Swift gave them “1989” and all who have music streamlined on Apple Music will get paid.
Copyright laws protect artists by giving them exclusive control over their works.
Taylor Allison Swift, still a baby at age 25, is no baby in the business world, and with her team of attorneys, she is quite the formidable force. She has been aggressive in protecting her image and her multiple streams of income. She has trademarked lyrics and she has even purchased porn domain names that could be used in an effort to profit on her name.
Swift has sued “the little people” who have tried to capitalize on her name or image.
Etsy is an e-commerce website that allows people to open “stores” and sell things such as art, photography, clothing, jewelry, bath and beauty products and more.
One Etsy-store owner, wanting not to be identified because he feared more legal action, received a trademark infringement warning from Swift’s group telling him to stop selling T-shirts featuring Swift lyrics.
The owner said:
We originally made the item for fun, we love Taylor and we had friends that love Taylor. We never intended for it to be a profit-making item. The cost of the item covered shipping costs, and production costs with very little left over. When we got the email we were pretty shocked because while our item was popular we didn’t feel as if it had become popular enough to cause harm to Taylor Swift’s empire. And we were scared. We didn’t even make enough money for a lawyer and this had seemed like such a harmless and fun idea.
That same day, we saw that Taylor was attempting to trademark a variety of phrases and trying to get them blocked from being sold. After seeing that, we grew a little angry and felt targeted by her camp. It didn’t seem like much of a coincidence anymore.
When asked how many Etsy sellers had been affected by trademark claims so far, a spokesperson said they don’t release those figures.
In 2011, Swift’s legal cunning resulted in the creation of TAS Rights Management, a full-time organization dedicated to licensing her pictures to publishers and agencies and it managing her trademarks.
Elle Church, via Facebook, offered the following comment about Taylor’s efforts to restrict sales of her works: “I’ve never been a fan of hers and couldn’t name a single song. That having been said, no amount of videos of her sending care packages to random fans will make up for the taste of s**t this will leave in the mouths of those very same fans. Sure, she has a legal right to her stuff, but the negligible profit that people make through selling TS inspired crap is not worth the backlash. Truly a situation of cutting off one’s nose to spite their face.”
Commenting on Swift’s trademarking (most recently “Party Like It’s 1989” and “This Sick Beat”), Allison Phillips, also via Facebook, said, “I love Taylor, but this reminds me of when Paris Hilton trademarked “that’s hot.” I get it, you’re proud of your music, but saying that nobody can ever arrange words in that same order without your legal team coming at them like a stampede of rhinos with rabies is a little ridiculous.”
That being said, I have officially trademarked the phrase “green bean gobstopping globetrotter.” You have been warned.
The Apple episode is a consistent one with Swift’s belief that music should not be distributed for free. Last November she withdrew her songs from Spotify, a popular commercial music streaming, podcast and video service. Swift said they were paying virtually nothing in royalties (between $0.006 and $0.0084 per play) and that yes Taylor would make millions, but she argued that newer artists would effectively be getting nothing.
Before that, last October, Swift told Universal Music China, the country’s main streaming platform organization, to remove her music, including her entire back catalogue, from any free component of their services.
Taylor’s legal world now involves defending a lawsuit filed by an imprisoned child pornographer.
Before Jose Hilario was charged, convicted and imprisoned, he and Swift had a correspondence acquaintance of sorts and actually met each other. He sued her for $100 million, claiming she stole his life story and used it as inspiration for “1989,” her latest album. Hilario says he will drop the lawsuit if Swift agrees to help him, restore their friendship and introduce him to Miley Cyrus.
Swift’s “camp” has not yet commented on this suit.
Swift is also now defending a lawsuit filed against her and American Greetings Corp. by Blue Sphere, Inc., over what they claim is the infringement of their “Lucky 13” brand and name. Blue Sphere holds trademarks for “Lucky 13” branded clothing, jewelry and paper products, and they claim American Greetings and Swift used “Lucky 13” to market and sell greeting cards through sponsorship of a sweepstakes contest.
American Greetings’ and Swift’s attorneys asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge said “no” and trial is set for Nov. 25.
Few others have had the power by their influence to enforce their efforts.
“She is the most powerful person in the music industry,” said David Lowery of the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.
In the 1990s, the musical group Pearl Jam battled Ticketmaster, arguing the company had a monopoly on ticket sales. The effort was eventually dropped. Even Frank Sinatra failed in his years-long efforts to change licensing laws over royalties for songs played on the radio.
Disney is now embroiled in an expensive trademark battle with Joel Zimmerman, a DJ who wears mouse headgear. Singer Rihanna, born Robyn Rhinna Fenty, is being sued by DC Comics because she is trying to trademark her first name, Robyn. The name, of course, is the same as Batman’s sidekick, which DC Comics owns.
Even Dan Snyder, with all of his money, cannot get out from under a trademark name battle over the name of his football team, the Redskins.
Legal issues for Swift? You know what the answer is: She’ll Shake Them Off.
(Note: This video is fully owned by Taylor Swift and @2015 Big Machine Records, LLC and is shared via her Vimeo / youtube.com public share feature making it available for use as a promotional instrument; no copyright infringement intended – just saying!)
Paul A. Samakow, an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
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