Taylor Swift is back in the news, but this time she’s tackling an issue that many artists have dealt with. Swift has been in a battle for the rights to her music since June and the situation has only gotten worse as the months go on. #IStandWithTaylorSwift is trending once again but this time the hashtag has an added symbolic meaning behind it. When the tag first started trending, it revolved around the scandal between Swift and her former label. This time, the tag is a symbol for artists to fight for their art and to not let big companies bring them down.
Back in early July, Tumblr queen Taylor Swift took to her blog to post a lengthy statement regarding her transition from Big Machine Label Group to Universal Music Group and how executives from her former label were bullying her. Scooter Braun, one of the biggest music executives in the industry, acquired Big Machine Label Group from Scott Borchetta in June.
While this deal was made in June, Swift had already left Borchetta’s label in November 2018. There was no bad blood reported between Swift and her former label, whom she had been with since the start of her music career. However, what seemed like a seamless transition turned out to be a messy public ordeal between two of music’s biggest executives and one of the most famous and influential singer-songwriters in the industry.
The problem isn’t that Swift left the label. The real issue is a debate between who should own Swift’s music. Issues of ownership invariably revolve around “masters,” referring to the original recording of a song. From this file, copies are made and sold. Basically, the music we listen to are copies of the master recording. Swift’s masters, from 2006 to 2018, belonged to Borchetta, however, they were later obtained by Braun once he acquired the label.
This is where the issue gets messy. Normally, an artist does not own their masters. Instead, the label owns them so that they can distribute copies of the artist’s music. Swift is one of the first artists ever to acquire the rights to her catalog, however she only owns the masters to her music moving forward. This means all her old albums are owned by Braun but her new album, “Lover,” belongs solely to her. This deal isn’t something that just happened overnight. Swift has been fighting for her masters for years now, so the news that Braun now owns her catalog did not sit well.
According to Swift, Borchetta gave her the option to earn back her music; for every album she released, she would get the masters for one of her old albums. Swift declined this offer with the knowledge that Borchetta was planning on selling the label anyways. In her post she states that she found out that Braun owned her music after the news was released to the public. This is when she accuses him of getting his clients to bully her online and accuses Borchetta of being manipulative and bullying her as well.
Borchetta and Braun both dispute these allegations and claimed that Swift knew beforehand what was going to happen with her catalog. This is what started the hashtag #WeStandWithTaylorSwift, which later turned into #IStandWithTaylorSwift. This hashtag allowed for people to chime in on the situation. After a few social media arguments between Swift’s supporters and Borchetta and Braun’s, the situation left everyone’s minds and timelines.
However, like all public feuds, the situation didn’t just stop there. For the past six months this scandal faded away until it made a reappearance on people’s timelines once again. #IStandWithTaylorSwift began circulating on Twitter after Swift revealed more details about the situation. She alluded to the idea of her re-recording her old songs so that she would own the masters to them; however, she would only be able to do it starting in November 2020. Until then, she has to go through Braun for her old music.
It becomes an issue now because Swift wants to perform a medley of her old songs and new songs at the American Music Awards. Allegedly Braun and Borchetta told her that she would not be able to because it is considered to be re-recording her old songs before 2020. This led to the situation getting even messier and complicated. However, it did bring up the question: Who should own an artist’s work?
#IStandWithTaylorSwift began trending on Twitter and was a symbol for other artists fighting for the right to own their art. She has a huge impact on the music industry, so her fighting for her music is going to encourage other artists to do the same. This could potentially revolutionize the music industry over time. While originally the hashtag centered around the drama, the second time it came around it focused more on an artist’s rights to their work. Artists are obligated by contracts to hand their masters over to the record label; this has been the standard for years. Now this standard is being questioned.
While artists do sign away their rights to their music, they usually don’t have a choice. #IStandWithTaylorSwift is just the start to paving a new path in the industry so that artists can be given that choice to claim ownership of their work. If more artists start fighting for the right to own their own music then there is a very good possibility that this could become the new industry standard. But until then, all we can do is sit back and watch the Taylor versus Big Machine Label Group saga unfold.