Sunday, 18 August 2019

Taylor Swift and her rights.

Now there's a name you never expected to see here. But the issue of rights has been brought into focus by a name as big as hers having the masters of her first 6 albums sold as part of a deal to acquire her previous label by impresario Scooter Braun (Justin Beiber and a million smaller names). As Swift's albums were reportedly 80% of the revenue of the Big Machine Group labels these were the obvious target of the acquisition. There is more on Swift's personal situation on Pitchfork.

Having just listened to Kenney Jones (Small Faces, Faces, The Who) autobiography on audiobook, the story of his contract issues with Don Arden in the 1960s sounds very similar. Robert Fripp's tales of his battles with E.G. Records and plenty of other artists, all of whom signed contracts they didn't understand early in their careers with stars in their eyes.

In other areas of employment the law protects the employee rigorously, often at the employer's expense. So, why are artistic rights not subject to some sort of protection. If Swift signed her contract in 2005 as reported then she was 16. So presumably her parents were involved in the deal, but from what I can find out are not lawyers or music industry people. Should there not be some sort of oversight when a contract involves someone young, perhaps under 21, making long term deals. Master recordings are of course for ever. I remember Swift's first album showing up on EMusic and thinking it was a perfectly good piece of modern mainstream country, not my thing, but I doubt she has missed my spending. I can sympathise with her as these recordings will now get hawked about for compilation albums and get repackaged as new product. Assuming she still holds the publishing rights (Sony/ATV from a look at one of my daughter's Taylor albums) then she will do alright, but everytime she sings one of the songs on these albums in concert she will be propping up the Scooter Braun empire, which will grate I'm sure.

Only a Northern Song

As an aside The Beatles' early catalogue was published by Northern Songs only to have music publisher Dick James sell the company on Brian Epstein's death. The full story is here, fairly accurately. Suffice to say the catalogue is now on it's sixth owner. Songwriting publishing is more lucrative than selling product so tends to get fought over by bands, rights holders, and business generally more aggressively. The fate of Northern Songs probably explains why the super deluxe editions of Beatles albums started with Sgt Peppers where McCartney, Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison have a stake in the publishing.

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