Taylor confirms she plans to re-record her earlier songs, but an entertainment lawyer tells HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY that it may not be as simple as it sounds.
Taylor Swift, 29, may not own her original master recordings, but she’s devised the ultimate move against music manager Scooter Braun. When asked about plans to potentially re-record her past songs as a way to take back control, the “ME!” singer confirmed “Yeah, absolutely,” in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, airing this Sunday, August 25. Scooter, 35, was publicly called out by Taylor in a headline-making Tumblr post after Braun’s company acquired Big Machine Records — Taylor’s record label from 2006 – 2018 — for a whopping $300 million. The sale included all of Big Machine’s assets, including the Grammy winner’s master recordings from her first six albums (Taylor’s upcoming seventh album, Lover, is the first release under her new agreement with Universal — which states that she now owns all of her masters going forward).
While re-recording her masters seems like a simple process, LA entertainment lawyer Gary Stiffelman from Greenberg Traurig, LLP — who represents some of the top musical acts in the world — tells HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY that a re-record clause could make things tricky. “Typically recording contracts [say] that the artist cannot rerecord any of the songs that they recorded and delivered to their record label for a certain period of time…like five years from the time the album came out, but no sooner than two years after the end of their contract term.” A quick math check puts Taylor’s first four albums — Taylor Swift (2006), Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010) and Red (2012) out of the five year range (1989 isn’t far behind, as it will have its five-year anniversary on October 27, 2019), but none of them would be out of the two-year mark of her Big Machine contract, which only ended in 2018 — so, about a year ago. Stiffelman clarifies, however, that “every contract has its own nuance. Nobody knows what Taylor Swift’s contracts says unless they’ve read her contract…And there are contracts that have 10-year or 15-year rerecording restrictions. It’s a matter of negotiations, it’s not a matter of law.”
As a songwriter, Taylor is in a unique position against other artists — leading fans to wonder why any of this is an issue at all, considering that, as a writer, she would own her music. “Since Taylor wrote her own songs, she owns her own publishing…There are two copyrights in any recording: the copyright in the underlying musical composition, and the copyright for the recording,” Gary explains. Owning her publishing rights still gives Taylor a leg up, as it would prevent Scooter from simply allowing others — like movies, commercials or television shows — to use Taylor’s music without her explicit permission. “If somebody wants to use one of her songs in a movie or commercial they would have to make a deal with Taylor as the publisher of the song. Taylor could say to them that if they want a license from her to use that piece of music then she could demand that they take her new recording of it. So as a negotiation [tactic] of using [her song], she can say ‘use my new recording or forget it.’”
There’s also the question of what a re-recording would look like: would Taylor simply go into the studio and sing a “Love Story” exactly like it sounded in 2008 — or would the song have to sound slightly different? “If the contract has a clause that says [a song] can’t be overly similar to the production that you did before, that’s a contractual limitation,” Gary says. “But I have been in the studio with artists who have recorded a very similar version.” While Taylor hasn’t explicitly stated how and when she would approach re-records, Gary says he “suspects that an artist like Taylor Swift is not going to want to simply duplicate the original production.”
In the new interview, Taylor also re-confirms that she found out about the Big Machine Records sale “when it was online” — something that was widely disputed after her emotional Tumblr post. At the time, Taylor expressed she was “grossed out” and labelled Scooter “a bully.” While there are no additional details about when Taylor plans to tackle these re-recordings, it all comes down to what’s in her contract. In the meantime, Swifties are counting down the days until Lover drops on August 23.
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