Taylor Swift Goes on a Trademark Bender
Taylor Swift is not only America’s cultural darling; she is an economic juggernaut. Worth an estimated 200 Million at the age of 25, she is a trendsetter who has amassed a fortune in a otherwise anemic music industry. Her move to pull her entire catalog off Spotify was unprecedented, yet brilliant. How do you force more album sales down an already adoring American public’s throat? You cut off all other points of sale. Swift has now made taken a move to secure the last great bastion of music profits: merchandising.
Since October 2014, 37 Trademark application have been filed on Swift’s behalf, claiming rights to phrases such as “This Sick Beat,” “Party Like it’s 1989,” “Could Show You Incredible Things,” and “Nice to Meet You. Where You Been?”
These marks cover reasonable products like “Handbags” and “Entertainment Services” to (I kid you not) “Wigs,” “Napkin Rings,” “Potpourri,” and “Non-Medicated Toiletries.” If you were planning on starting a “Sick Beat” toiletry company, think again.
As Vox pointed out, merchandising is one of the last ways to turn a profit in a music business devoid of album sales (Swift being the exception to this unfortunate truism). Swift clearly is setting up the battleground for her brand, and now has the means to stamp out those attempting to profit off her lyrics. Does she have an active intent to market “Party Like its 1989” napkin rings? Probably not. But you better be sure that those deviant businesses cranking out cheap Taylor Swift napkin rings in China will be receiving a letter from her lawyer.
Is all this legal? Surely someone shouldn’t be able to lock down these types of phrases for their sole use? As we covered in our informative guide to trademarks, the protectability of such phrasing depends largely on the general public’s awareness that Swift is the source of such slogans. With millions of Americans singing these words on a daily basis, I doubt Swift would have much trouble showing widespread awareness of “Shake if Off,” if push came to shove.
But, what about the free speech rights of Americans? We should be able to puffy paint all the “This Sick Beat” tee shirts we want! This is true, and given Swift’s touchingly personal PR tactics, I doubt she took this move to stop her hordes of fans from bedazzling everything from tee shirts to napkin rings. The Trademarks are likely a preventative measure, designed to prevent such slogans from being sold on an industrial scale. In this regard, she is completely justified. Think about it: if a Swift fan (or “Swiftie”) sees a product in Wall-Mart with their favorite Swift-esq slogan on it, they are far more likely to purchase that product. The money was arguably made due to Swift’s artistic endeavors, and thus she deserves a share of the profits.
Swift has never been one for taking any cuts in her bottom line. Sure, she respects her fans to an adorably cute degree, but the reality is that she knows the worth of her empire and isn’t known for letting others take a free ride.