In 2006, Taylor Swift released her first country single “Tim McGraw.” Six albums and 14 years later, she is the only female artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year twice, and is arguably the biggest pop star of this generation. She also recently lost the rights to every song she’s ever written.
Swift has had several public feuds during her time in the spotlight. Katy Perry, Kanye West, the Kardashians and Calvin Harris are just a few on the long list of names that have quarreled with Swift over everything from professional slights to personal relationships. Scooter Braun, talent manager for names like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato, has just been added to that list. In late June, it was announced that Braun had bought out Big Machine Records, Swift’s former label, and had subsequently acquired the rights to her entire music catalogue — from her debut, self-titled country album to her latest hit, reputation.
Beyond the fact the Braun has made news in the past for disparaging Swift on social media and has reportedly never been a fan of her or her music, there is a larger issue — Swift allegedly was never given the opportunity to buy back her own music. Swift was so passionate about owning the rights to her songs that she left Big Machine Records for Republic Records, specifically so she could have the rights to her upcoming album, Lover. However, Braun and the CEO of Big Machine Records, Scott Borchetta, claim they gave Swift the opportunity to bid on her own work and notified her that Braun was the one who purchased it, something Swift and her lawyers claim never happened.
Swift probably isn’t going to take this to court since no contracts were technically broken, but she did bring it to the public eye, and people chose sides. Halsey, Hayley Kiyoko and Alessia Cara, all female artists known for writing their own lyrics, weighed in that many people will never know what it feels like to put countless hours and emotional labor into songs and then have no claim over them after the fact. The hashtag #WeStandWithTaylor started trending immediately after she released her first statement, and for maybe the first time since the 2009 MTV awards that started her feud with Kanye West, it seems like the majority of public opinion is leaning in Swift’s favor.
“This is my worst case scenario. This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says ‘Music has value’, he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it.” -Taylor Swift
Whether you believe Swift was wronged or not, she has used her platform to spark a conversation that impacts many young artists: signing away their rights. Swift was only 15 years old when she first signed with Big Machine Records, the youngest artist they had ever represented. She didn’t come from a musical family who had experience negotiating contracts, and at the time, she thought she was getting a great deal. But in reality, there was virtually no way for her to ever own her music catalogue due to that contract. Halsey pointed out in her post supporting Swift that women are often respected as performers, but rarely given the same decency as writers and artists.
Swift does not seem to be escalating her claims into any legal action. In fact, it seems like the only reason she addressed Braun’s purchase at all was to raise awareness that even she, a multi-million-dollar-earning recording artist, was still taken advantage of and left out of the sale of her own work. Swift’s new album Lover, of which she owns all the catalogue rights, will be released on August 23rd, 2019.