Queen’s Taylor Swift course 'Law (Taylor’s Version)' uses singer as entertainment law case study

A course theme is that entertainment law spans many different legal practice areas

Queen’s Taylor Swift course 'Law (Taylor’s Version)' uses singer as entertainment law case study

Queen’s Law has introduced a Taylor Swift course called Law (Taylor’s Version), using the singer’s unique interactions with the music industry as a guide for a range of entertainment law issues.

Mohamed Khimji got the idea for a Taylor Swift course when a friend asked him why she had re-recorded her albums. Khimji is the associate dean for academic policy and the David Allgood professor in business law at Queen’s Law School. His legal expertise is in corporate law, M&A, and secured transactions.

In 2021, Swift released “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” and followed with reproductions of the albums “Red,” “Speak Now,” and “1989.” In re-recording her music, Swift was taking control of it. She was initially signed to Big Machine Records but left in 2018 to join the recording company Republic and negotiated a deal where she would own the master rights to all her future recordings. The master rights to her past albums remained with Big Machine Records, which was sold to, Scooter Braun, in 2019. By re-recording her albums, she gives those interested in purchasing the rights to use her music the option of working with her or Braun.

In describing this to his friend, Khimji needed to explain the relevance of contract and copyright law. “I just thought to myself, my students would be interested in learning about this as well.”

By studying Swift’s various dealings with the law over the years, he found enough content to construct an entire entertainment law course. He found that Swift has had a “significant impact” on the music industry at large.

One significant example was when she removed her music from Spotify in 2014, forcing the streaming service to change its business model and increase the royalties it pays to artists, he says.

Swift also has a provision in her contract whereby Republic Records, which owns some Spotify stock, must pay some of the revenue to its artists if it sells the shares.

Swift’s ownership of her masters has also encouraged others in the industry to do the same.

A primary example is Olivia Rodrigo, says Khimji. In 2020, when negotiating her record deal, she insisted on ownership of the masters as a precondition. “She cited Taylor Swift explicitly as the inspiration for doing so.”

He says Taylor Swift has effectively empowered musicians to negotiate more control over their output. This has led record companies to respond by insisting on longer terms that prevent musicians from re-recording their albums.

“That's the direct influence of Taylor Swift’s decision to re-record her albums and how successful they’ve been.”

Swift’s career also holds legal lessons through the lawsuits she has faced over the years.

Two songwriters, Nathan Butler and Sean Hall, sued Swift for copyright infringement, claiming she stole lyrics from the 2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play” for her 2014 hit single “Shake it Off.” They dropped the lawsuit before trial.

In 2022, a woman named Teresa La Dart sued Swift for $1 million. La Dart said Swift used the colour scheme from her 2010 poetry collection “Lover” for the booklet accompanying Swift’s 2019 album, also called “Lover.” The lawsuit was dismissed in 2023.

The Utah theme park Evermore Park sued Swift, arguing that her album " Evermore” and its related merchandise infringed on the park’s trademarks. Swift counter-sued, accusing the park of having its employees perform songs by Swift and other artists without a license.

Khimji says a theme of the class is that entertainment law spans so many diverse legal practice areas.

Media reports allege Swift advised her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, to trademark his name, Instagram handle, and signature catchphrase.

She has also used defamation law to respond to critics who said she had not done enough publicly in support of the Black Lives Matter protests during the pandemic. She has also been sued for defamation for accusing a DJ of groping her.

Khimji adds that Swift is a singular cultural figure for many complicated reasons.

“She's a phenomenon, in my view, that is worthy of study – not just from a legal discipline, but from quite a few disciplines.”

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