An illustration of a judge's gavel hitting '1989,' the title of a popular music album by Taylor Swift.
Illustration by Laura Chan-Sing, Ryerson University

How Legal Issues Are Affecting Future Re-Releases From Taylor Swift

Although the re-recordings of ‘Fearless’ and ‘Red’ were met with overwhelmingly positive reactions, copyright and trademark cases may prevent other highly anticipated albums from releasing any time soon.

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An illustration of a judge's gavel hitting '1989,' the title of a popular music album by Taylor Swift.
Illustration by Laura Chan-Sing, Ryerson University

Although the re-recordings of ‘Fearless’ and ‘Red’ were met with overwhelmingly positive reactions, copyright and trademark cases may prevent other highly anticipated albums from releasing any time soon.

In the months leading up to the release of Taylor Swift’s seventh album, “Lover,” news broke of a sale between her previous label, Big Machine Records, owned by Scott Borchetta, and Ithaca Holdings, owned by Scooter Braun. Following the sale, Swift publicly denounced Braun and Borchetta, identifying the former as a source of “incessant, manipulative bullying” for years. The sale between the two private equity firms included the masters of the first six albums made by Swift. In the wake of the news, Swift confirmed she would be re-recording her first six albums, “Taylor Swift,” “Fearless,” “Speak Now,” “Red,” “1989” and “Reputation.”

Swift began to re-record the albums as early as the fall of 2019; by 2021, she had released her re-recordings of both “Red,” now renamed “Red (Taylor’s Version),” and “Fearless,” re-titled “Fearless (Taylor’s Version).” Based on the two releases, fans began to sense a pattern from Swift: two releases per year with an announcement following the release of the album in a matter of months. Now that we are almost halfway through 2022, fans are awaiting the next announcement from Swift, with the two most anticipated follow-ups being “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),” and “1989 (Taylor’s Version).” Still, Swift has yet to disclose any information about the re-release of either album. The reasons lie in the legal realm, from trademark issues to copyright claims.

1989: Bad Blood Between Artists

One of the most anticipated re-recordings from Swift has been “1989,” her fifth album. It marked her full transition into pop, and the album saw commercial success unlike any other before or after. However, the lead single, and one of the biggest songs in Swift’s catalog, “Shake It Off,” has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle: a lawsuit over lyrical copyright and plagiarism. While this is not the first time a claim like this has been made against an artist as big as Swift, it does keep her from releasing the re-recording of “1989” until the case is settled.

Central to the lawsuit are the lyrics “players gonna play” and “haters gonna hate” in the chorus of the song. Swift first found herself sued by Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, writers of the song “Playas Gon Play” by the group 3LW. Hall and Butler’s suit alleges that Swift ripped off their lyrics in the 2001 tune, specifically the lines “playas, they gonna play” and “haters, they gonna hate.” Although the case was dismissed in 2018, it was picked up again following an appeal by Hall and Butler’s attorneys and has been ongoing ever since. The case will proceed in the summer; the judge refused to dismiss the case in a move that Swift’s attorneys said was “unprecedented” and could set a precedent that “cheats the public domain.” Swift and her team cited the extrinsic test, “the process where judges filter out material that isn’t covered by copyrights” — in this case, they claim that both phrases fall into the category of public domain statements.

Because the court case is set for August 30 of this year, fans are finding the wait to be a hard pill to swallow. Without one of the biggest songs on the album, “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” simply cannot be released. Swift did, however, tease fans about the project in the fall of 2021 with her single “Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version).” The single has been met with praise, though fans are eagerly awaiting the day the lawsuit is settled so that they may receive the album in full.


Speak Now: Haunted by Trademarks

For every album an artist puts out, the musician must take a certain step to ensure the name of the project belongs to them: trademarking. Artists trademark the name of their albums for everything from live performances to merchandise. However, trademarks expire after a certain amount of time, and Swift’s trademark on “Speak Now” was set to expire in December of 2021. Almost 10 years after the original was filed on June 27, 2011, Swift’s team filed for the trademark again, only with “(Taylor’s Version)” attached to the end. A Facebook post made by Taylor Nation, the PR team behind Swift, details the journey to again use the trademark and move forward with the release of the album. Unexpectedly, Swift was denied the trademark by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It cited a company name OnePlus Electronics, which filed for the trademark for itself on Feb. 3, 2021. For the technology company, the trademark would protect its upcoming line of voice-activated products.

The difference between this issue and the lawsuit behind “Shake It Off” goes beyond the timing of their filings. Because OnePlus filed for the trademark as recently as last year, the marketing for “Speak Now: Taylor’s Version” is threatened by consumer confusion between the products. This problem would be compounded if Swift were to go about releasing merchandise associated with technology, such as phone cases or stands. Because the trademark is being sought after by both parties, OnePlus was told by the USPTO to submit an argument stating why they should be the ones to claim the term “Speak Now.” The company has until July 26, to respond to Swift’s team, after which Swift could file another appeal to gain the trademark rights. With no word from OnePlus on the horizon, it looks like fans will have to wait for Swift to acquire the rights to “Speak Now” before getting the smallest crumb of her version of the album.

Next Chapter?

The legal issues surrounding “1989” and “Speak Now” have temporarily halted the massive endeavor by Swift, and fans have absolutely noticed. The re-releases seem to follow a story: “Fearless: Taylor’s Version,” her 2009 breakthrough album, began the journey of the re-recordings with a smash. But now that “Red: Taylor’s Version” is already out, legal issues have held up fan favorites “1989” and “Speak Now,” and a contractual obligation prevents the re-recording of “Reputation” until November 2022, fans are only left with the debut album, “Taylor Swift.”

Fans have speculated that Swift wants to re-record her debut album last so she can create a full-circle moment. While this would be a fitting end to this chapter of Swift’s musical career, fans are still curious to learn which album is next. However, much of the conversation about the re-recordings is speculation, never fully confirmed by Swift until the day she announces the album in question. If either “1989” or “Speak Now” are next on her schedule, fans will just have to wait until the fall to see what comes next. Whichever it may be will certainly be met with anticipation.

Writer Profile

Jordan Oulela

University of Texas at San Antonio
English with a Professional Writing Concentration

Hello! My name is Jordan, and I am a senior at UTSA. I’ve lived in San Antonio my whole life, and some of my favorite things include rock climbing, running, discovering new music and writing.

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