Taylor Swift: A Case Study of Celebrities and IP

Ever so often, the glamorous celebrity world collides with that of intellectual property, shining a glittery spotlight on this often underestimated area of the law.  Especially in recent years, with the rise of digital music streaming, royalty disputes, copyright, trademark and branding issues highlighted by the speed of social media, these two worlds have collided with particular frequency.  To gain insight into the ways that celebrities may dabble into the IP world, this article briefly examines specific areas of Taylor Swift’s IP portfolio, which may well be one of the most thorough and extensive:
Upon the release of her latest album, 1989, in October 2014, Swift announced that she was removing her catalogue of songs from Spotify, stating that artists should be paid for their art.  Her statement implied that digital streaming services do not compensate musicians fairly.  The CEO of her record label stated that they had received less than $500,000 in related royalties, but Spotify countered this statement by saying it paid out $2 million in the referenced period.
In the same month, she filed sixteen intent-to-use applications for the mark “THIS SICK BEAT” (a lyric from her “Shake it Off” single) for a variety of goods and services, including public appearances, fan club services, musical instruments, recordings, apparel, jewelry and beauty products.
Ms. Swift is also known for pursuing makers of allegedly infringing materials on Etsy, an online marketplace, and demanding that a number of items be taken off the site.
This case study raises the topic of whether it is a good idea when a celebrity’s IP portfolio, and use thereof, does not benefit his or her fans.  Digital streaming and handmade products are expressions of their popularity.  Especially in cases where infringement is not clear, one wonders if such an aggressive stance may alienate admirers.