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Taylor’s IP Belongs With Her – And it Never Goes Out of Style

Introduction 

In 2024, there’s one Superstar on everyone’s mind (and social media feed): Taylor Swift. Building upon her many recent triumphs and coups, including the opening of the phenomenal Eras Tour, a box office record-breaking hit concert movie, and the addition of two more Grammys to her collection, Taylor Swift has also made Australian fans’ Wildest Dreams come true by bringing the Eras Tour to Australia.  

With the reputation Swift has amassed over her impressive 20-year career, it’s not unexpected that others may try to sidle up and secure some proximity benefit from her success – with or without the artist’s permission. Swift’s team are likely aware of this threat, but are they Ready For It? A look at her IP portfolio and strategy indicates they most certainly are. 

Trade Mark Protection  

Swift has taken a proactive approach by filing a plethora of trade mark applications with the USPTO via her company TAS Rights Management, LLC. These trade marks encompass many aspects of her public self and product including her signature, the name of her fanbase (the “Swifties”), and various album titles. Notably, she has also successfully registered song lyrics as trade marks, such as the opening line from her 2014 smash hit Blank Space: “Nice to meet you, where you been?” 

The trade mark applications for these words and phrases cover a diverse range of products and services. They mostly cover musical performances/recordings and different kinds of merchandise – clothing, key rings, stationery, guitar picks, and even Christmas tree ornaments, to name a few. These are all areas that Taylor Swift could conceivably wish to actually use her trade marks in.  

These trade mark filings are initiated in the US are then often used as the base for international registrations which are filed via the Madrid Protocol system. Swift’s team files applications via the Madrid Protocol system most frequently in the European Union, Australia, Japan, China, Mexico, New Zealand, Great Britain, and Canada. Clearly, these countries are of significance to Taylor and her team, likely because of her prominent fanbase in these locations. 

The trade mark registrations in each of these jurisdictions grant her the exclusive right to use the protected slogans, phrases, and album titles commercially, so that imitators can’t put out and profit from merchandise implied to be approved by the pop star. This ensures Swift remains in control of how her brand can and can’t be portrayed and monetised by others. 

However intriguingly, there is actually additional form of protection she could add to her IP empire in Australia which is not available in her home country of the USA: a Defensive Trade Mark. With such a high level of notoriety and awareness of her name and brand, if it were to be placed upon most products, even ones that she would never consider selling, it is likely that a consumer could think it is related to her business. It is these sorts of high-level brands which are perfect candidates for securing the vast and long-lasting protection that is afforded by Defensive Trade Marks. Alas many countries do not offer her this little known gem, but perhaps her team could consider this possibility in Australia. 

The Taylor’s Version Saga 

Copyright is an IP right that allows creators of original artistic, literary, or musical works – such as song lyrics, compositions, or recordings, as well as performances and choreography – the exclusive right to use or reproduce those works (for a limited time), or to allow others to use them.  

Swift’s most prominent IP dispute has been over the ownership of her music – particularly the masters (original sound recordings) of her first six albums. In a nutshell, her contract with her first record label, Big Machine Records, meant that Swift owns the rights to the lyrics and musical composition of the songs on those albums as the author of them, but not the resulting masters. This arrangement meant that she was unable to prevent the record label’s sale of her music catalogue. 

However, all is not lost. Since she owns the rights to the lyrics and composition of her original songs, Swift has been able to make copyright law work for her; giving rise to the recent Taylor’s Version re-releases of her first six albums. These re-recorded albums are distributed by a different label (Republic Records). Under her contract with this label, Swift owns all of the rights to the masters of all her albums released since 2019’s Lover, including the re-recordings of her older albums. Hopefully, she is Out of the Woods when it comes to this issue.  

Take Aways  

In a society that often commodifies artists of all kinds as well as their life’s work, Taylor Swift is working to maintain both her musical and commercial autonomy and control over her career and art. With a myriad of registered trade marks and her recent utilisation of her copyright rights as a songwriter to regain control of her music, it’s clear that intellectual property is a topic that Taylor and her team know All Too Well.  So, what can we learn from the Mastermind herself?  

Firstly, it is incredibly important to analyse and recognise what aspects of your brand are most valuable – and what others may either accidentally or maliciously infringe upon – and ensure those aspects are protected. Depending upon your business, it could also be a worthwhile consideration to protect your branding internationally, as Taylor has done but also to investigate what other special protections mechanisms might be available in individual countries such as Australia’s Defensive Trade Mark system.  

Clearly, Swift places a high value on her brand, evinced by her many trade marks registered in many jurisdictions. Your organisation may have valuable IP in the way of trade marks, or even patent or design-protectable material. If someone else infringes your IP, you want to be able to stop them, not be left seeing Red

The Taylor’s Version re-recordings demonstrate the importance of knowing the law and how it works to benefit you, or consulting with someone who does. Engaging someone with this knowledge is the most painless way to ensure the best possible outcomes for your specific situation. If you require advice on IP strategy regarding patents, designs, or trade marks, the team at Michael Buck IP can help. Give us a call on 07 3369 2226 or use the Book a Meeting form on our website.