Taylor Swift is known for shaking up the industry, throwing tantrums, and getting revenge on those who wrong her, usually through music. So, when Taylor Swift was asked this morning by CBS whether she would re-record her master recordings from her Big Machine, which are now owned and controlled by her nemesis, Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun, Taylor Swift responded: “Oh Yeah, oh absolutely”.
No further remarks were made, but those four words open a can of worms of legal questions about when and how Swift can re-record her catalogue to snatch income from Big Machine by making sure that her new versions, and not the ones owned by her former label, are the ones played by fans and used in commercial ventures, such as advertisements, TV shows, movies, games, and other uses.
Back in June, Swift accused Braun of bullying her over the years and said the sale of her songs with Big Machine Label Group to the music executive’s Ithaca Holdings company was her “worst-case scenario.”
Prince and Def Leppard are two artists who successfully went that route in the past when they felt their compensations by their original labels were unfair, but their contracts dated back to the 1970s. Record companies quickly got wise to the practice and wrote provisions into their standard contracts setting a period before those same songs, which include live versions, could be released.
But there are two scenarios. A first scenario sees Swift unable to re-record songs from her catalogue until five years from 2018 when the deal with Big Machine officially expires, and even then the process would be prohibitively complicated. For example, she may not have the rights to the original songs.
And a second scenario where it is believed she can re-record her classics, and that any smart industry lawyer would not allow a severe re-record restriction in their artist’s contract. This suggests that any album more than five years old is fair game.
Variety spoke to music industry lawyers who say Swift can move ahead with new versions of her songs and cite the practice by legacy artists. “Once an artist’s deal with their label expires. That artist has a contractual right to record for a new label and for both entities to make money of those recordings. The standard language is two years after the end of the term of five years after the release of the recordings in question.”
Swift has made her fans more than aware of her feelings about Braun’s acquisition of her masters, and it’s likely a large percentage of them will follow her to whichever versions of her songs she asks them to. Then again, others may prefer the original, which could have an adverse effect.
However, that is an issue for the future. Right now, rights to master recording are seen as incredibly valuable one-of-a-kind works of art, not unlike that of a famous painter. If Swift’s battle history is any indication, this one is far from over…