Taylor Swift and Her Trademarks

As we walk through the world of a slowly-overwhelming corporate America where everything is little more than a marketing device, it’s usually nice to think we as consumers can fall back on something that usually (usually, I said) doesn’t involve any sort of direct product advertising: music. Music has been around for centuries, developed through various styles and tastes from virtuosos and geniuses of a wide array of backgrounds to evolve into the plethora of genres and subgenres that we are capable of enjoying at our own leisure today. However, in the modern world, some might argue that while music itself may or may not remain genuinely pure, the musical artists whose childhood dreams involved belting a tune on a stage in front of thousands of adoring fans may or may not have gotten something lost in translation along the way. Now, it’s safe to say that musical artists are greatly celebrated for their talent and their lyrics that can inspire a whole generation on the spot, but with that goal successfully reached, where do they go from there? Some use their fame as a voice of influence. Some branch out to other fields: movies or TV shows chief among them. And there are some who go on intelligent property and trademark binges.

Remember when our President Donald Trump attempted to develop the common phrase of “You’re fired” into his own brand? The popularly-used, two-word phrase slung around by the businessman-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-world leader (whatever opinions you might have of him, this is the current reality) nearly became the sole property of our highest government leader. Granted, it was rejected based on a more rudimentary and empirical reason, but to many of us, the idea of capitalizing monetarily on such a common phrase such as that borders on idiocy.

But, the phenomenon of trademarking is hardly a new one, and hardly one that the musical industry has attempted to capitalize upon. While many tend to attempt applying trademarks to band names or specific song titles or even specific gestures (cue the famous Gene Simmons “devil horns” which personally reminds me more of a pretty famous college football gesture anyway), Taylor Swift appears to have been on quite a tear over the last several years in attempts to trademark more substantial portions of her lyrics.

With the intent of furthering her brand as one of the more successful musical artists since the turn of the century, it’s pretty easy to see why Taylor Swift might want to capitalize on specific phrases such as “This sick beat” or “Party like it’s 1989.” But, at some point, one has to wonder: is this for protecting your specific brand? Or is it simply an excuse to slap wholly unnecessary lawsuits for what some might consider to be trivial product placement at best? Intellectual property law is a fickle thing, after all, and one of the conditions that must be met regarding trademark applications is whether or not the trademark in question is actually being used in a commercial setting or at least comes with an intent to use it regarding specific categories of merchandise. And while I’m sure Ms. Swift could come up with a plethora of ideas for merchandise regarding some of her trademarks, there is always the simple question of how aggressive she is with patenting several lines of lyrics and how she might apply them to a commercial setting. Many diehard fans only ever want officially licensed merchandise to show support for a particular brand as opposed to bootleg knockoffs anyway. So, in an ever-increasingly corporate industry such as that of music, the aggressive tactics to protect her intellectual property make you wonder just how much of it may be about the fans and how much of it may be about – and I’m sorry to all the “Swifties” out there – the money.

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