It is undeniable that Taylor Swift is a force to be reckoned with, particularly with the staggering success of her 1989 world tour. Beyond all of the awards, endorsements, and incredible album sales, Swift has been aggressive in her pursuit of intellectual property rights. While, of course, Swift and her management team have copyright protections for her songs, it is her numerous trademark applications that have recently garnered much attention.
Phrases such as “This Sick Beat” and “Nice To Meet You. Where You Been?” join previously applied-for trademarks in Swift’s portfolio. Using the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System, searching Swift as owner yields 117 trademarks that have either been registered to her, or been applied for on behalf of Swift. Due to the category system used by the USPTO for trademarks, many of the applications are for the same mark in multiple categories. For example, “This Sick Beat” accounts for 16 of 117 trademark applications. Swift joins other musicians such as Beyoncé and Britney Spears in attempting to expand her brand using trademarks. Even Swift’s rumored adversary, Katy Perry, has taken advantage of the use of trademarks for the infamous Left Shark from her Super Bowl performance.
It is unclear at this point, as to why Swift has chosen to trademark these particular phrases, whether they are a part of a larger merchandising plan or simply the singer’s desire to protect what she believes is rightfully hers. Swift has previously expressed her views on the value of her albums saying that “music is art … [and] should not be free” in her op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Months after, Swift pulled her music from the popular digital music service, Spotify, citing the service’s ad-supported free subscription that allows people listen to her music without paying as the reason. Swift is clearly dedicated to protecting her music’s value, which explains her aggressive trademarking.
The effects of Swift’s enthusiastic embrace of intellectual property protections are just beginning. The singer is well known for her close relationships with her fans, but with her increasing number of legal protections on her work, there are bound to be some collisions. Earlier this year, several Etsy shops were sent cease and desist letters for selling Taylor Swift products, which had some fans feeling at odds with the singer. It is unclear whether these were isolated incidents, or a sign of future behavior from Swift’s legal team. Swift may be running the risk of offending her fans as she defends her work, but it is clear that she is steadfast in protecting the value of her work, which after all, is one of the main objectives of intellectual property law.
Swift also finds herself on the other side the situation, facing a lawsuit by Blue Sphere Inc., an Orange County clothing company, for trademark infringement. The suit alleges that Swift used the mark “Lucky 13”, which is registered to Blue Sphere, in a promotional sweepstakes and on T-shirts. The possible effects of the suit for Swift go beyond the possibility of paying monetary relief to Blue Sphere to include damaging a brand that has been carefully developed. Blue Sphere has been looking into Swift’s endorsement deals and investigating her trademark collection, which could cause such details be public record should the suit go to trial. Lifting the veil of secrecy about an endorsement deal could benefit competitors and be a way to incentivize a celebrity into a settlement agreement. A representative of Swift even claimed that Blue Sphere’s deposition subpoena was “to harass Taylor into a settlement” after a judge refused to limit the scope of questions during the deposition.
Swift, and other celebrities, such as Michael Jordan, are navigating the complex world of business and intellectual property law during a time when IP-intensive industries are major economic force. Like any thoughtful and discerning CEO, Swift is carefully watching over her intellectual property rights in order to protect her work and grow her brand. The outcome of the Lucky 13 infringement case should provide interesting insight into Swift’s business plans and her strategies in managing her intellectual property rights.