For over a decade, Taylor Swift’s upbeat, country-pop music has been the soundtrack to many people's lives. With the majority of her music being themed about love and heartbreak, it hits a specific place in people’s hearts. Swift has used her own personal experiences and feelings to inspire her songwriting.
Although Swift has written most of her own music, she does not own it. This is common territory in the music business, however, it is not ethically sound.
Swift deserves the right to perform her old discography without legal repercussions.
When Swift signed to Big Machine Records, she also signed away her rights to own the master recordings of any album she created while under the label. According to Billboard, she was 14 years old when she signed her record deal in 2006. Due to Swift being so young, she was probably eager and excited to be recording music and didn’t realize what not owning the rights to her master recordings actually entailed.
Swift made it a point to own all of her future recordings when she signed a new record deal with Universal Music Group, with Universal’s Republic Records as her United States partner. Under this new deal, Universal will license Swift's new masters for many years, in order to get returns on its investment, according to Billboard.
On Nov. 24, Swift was honored at the American Music Awards (AMAs) as the Artist of the Decade and sang a melody of her classic hits during the show, but she had to fight for it.
According to Entertainment Tonight, Swift claimed that Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta of her former label, Big Machine Records, restricted Swift regarding the songs she could perform from her previous albums under their label.
Swift took to her social media to share a statement accusing Braun and Borchetta of not letting her preform her old songs at the AMAs and not allowing the use of recorded footage for an upcoming Netflix documentary.
In her statement on Twitter, Swift wrote, “Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun have now said that I’m not allowed to perform my old songs on television because they claim that would be re-recording my music before I am allowed to next year.” Swift also said that the two men were “exercising tyrannical control” and said she felt they were telling her to “be a good little girl and shut up.”
After speaking about not being able to preform on television, she said that her music couldn’t be used in her documentary.
“Netflix has created a documentary about my life for the past few years. Scott and Scooter have declined the use of my older music or performance footage for this project, even though there is no mention of either of them or Big Machine Records anywhere in the film,” Swift wrote.
Since Swift's statement was released, Big Machine Records responded with a statement of its own on Nov. 18, stating on its website that it informed the organizers of the AMAs that it was "agreed to grant all licenses of their artists’ performances to stream post show and for re-broadcast on mutually approved platforms. It should be noted that recording artists do not need label approval for live performances on television or any other live media. Record label approval is only needed for contracted artists' audio and visual recordings and in determining how those works are distributed."
Despite the disagreement being settled in Swift's favor, resulting in her being able to perform her old discography at the awards show, it is depressing that the songs she wrote when she was younger don't belong to her.
Though it is sad, Swift did sign a legally binding contract when she signed her record deal at age 14.
Record labels are businesses. They will try to take advantage of young, naive artists who are new to the music business, which is what Big Machine Records did to Swift. Artists should have the right to own and use their music however they want.
Record labels should not have control over artists' original creations, and Swift should not continue to be harassed by these businessmen.