On June 30, Taylor Swift took to tumblr to post about the sale of her former record label, Big Machine Records, and the sale of her entire music catalogue and master tapes. According to Swift’s post, she was left in the dark about both sales and was disappointed to learn that her music was being sold to Scooter Braun, who Swift said was heavily involved with getting two of his clients to bully her during her feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in 2016.
Swift said that owning the rights to her songs and master tapes has always been important and that she had previously been offered the ability to “earn” back one of her old albums for each new album she produced.
An Unlikely Ally
Reform is definitely needed in terms of musicians owning the rights to their own songs. Although it is not guaranteed a government solution would work, Swift has an unlikely ally in her fight against the music industry.
Most people know that Swift’s first venture into the political world was to endorse Marsha Blackburn’s opponent in the Tennessee senate race, Phil Bredesen, a move that received some mixed reactions from two of our contributors. Blackburn was a cosponsor of the Music Authorization Act and is a cosponsor of a bill to create small claims copyright courts. Despite their differences on social issues like same sex marriage and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Swift and Blackburn need to put their ‘bad blood’ aside and work on this together. Blackburn and Swift both believe that musicians should be compensated properly for the music they write, so this shouldn’t be a complicated issue for them to collaborate on.
How Should Reform Be Done?
Coming up with an effective solution, especially from a government perspective, will not be an easy thing to do—despite Congress and President Trump agreeing that musicians should be paid for their work. While forcing record labels to give their clients the option to own their music seems sensible, it will cause the labels to look at musicians less often—especially since there won’t be as much money coming in if musicians own the rights to their catalogue and master tapes.
One change that could be made is reducing the amount of time a musician has to wait to claim their songs. Under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1967, the earliest Swift can regain the rights to her songs is 2041… 35 years after the release of her debut album. Songs that turn 35 are allowed to be reclaimed by their artists. An example of this policy is Don Henley being able to claim the recording of his 1984 hit, The Boys Of Summer, this year.
While the current law says 35 years, it shouldn’t be unreasonable to change the law to 15-20 years. This seems fair, especially since musicians like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and The Foo Fighters are actively performing and shouldn’t have to worry about paying to perform their own songs. Typically, the person or group splits the royalties with the songwriters, but contractual agreements could change that amount.
Although changing the amount of time someone other than the songwriter could own publishing rights will help musicians, it could have a negative impact on the future of the music industry. Record labels are set on how much they’d like to give to musicians in terms of ownership rights, especially on the first contract a musician signs. Telling record companies what they have to offer will hurt musicians and give them less during negotiations. Musicians like Paul McCartney, Don Henley, and Tom Petty fought with record labels in the past and used the termination opt out as a threat. Swift will likely do the same thing and claim her songs back as soon as she can.
No matter what happens, she has a chance to influence Congress on musicians’ rights and should consider working with someone like Marsha Blackburn to make changes that benefit her and other musicians.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.