Taylor Swift’s Trademark Era

Highly decorated singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, recently the star of her own concert tour film, has considerable interests to protect and controversies to deflect. Docket Alarm analytics helps reveal Swift’s interaction with the American legal system in the last decade. This article considers the possible motivation behind her vast army of trademarks, explores counsel trends, and highlights some notable copyright suits Swift has defended.

Trademark Titan

A Docket Alarm trademark prosecution search for the company that files and owns trademarks on behalf of Swift, TAS Rights Management, LLC, yields just under 200 proceedings beginning in 2013, between the release of Swift’s 2012 album “Red” and 2014’s“1989.”

Swift enhanced efforts to protect her brand; after releasing “1989,” she went on a trademark filing bonanza. Swift reportedly registered song lyric phrases like “Nice to meet you. Where you been” and “’Cause we never go out of style” from the songs “Blank Space” and “Style,” respectively, a University of Illinois Law Review article by April Xiaoyi Xu reported.

According to Forbes, the registrations made Swift “the first musician to stake this kind of claim on words.” But do trademarks go out of style? A United States Patent and Trademark Office official search for “this sick beat,” a phrase from Swift’s song “Shake It Off,” shows that all but one of the sixteen trademark registrations (for drumsticks and guitar picks) are “dead,” meaning canceled, invalidated, or abandoned. The defunct registrations covered apparel, home goods, lanyards, textiles, and “non-medicated toiletries,” among a massive array of other goods.

Perhaps Swift realized she did not need to sell branded coasters in view of the proceeds she would make from the October 13, 2023 release of tour film “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour.” The self-produced concert film broke box office records for its genre, pulling in about $96 million in the United States and Canada in its opening weekend according to CNN Business.

Swift also brokered a unique and exclusive distributorship deal with the world’s largest theater chain, AMC Entertainment, that enabled her to collect about 57% of each ticket sold, Brooks Barnes of the New York Times reported. “Swifties always snack in style,” AMC told fans to buoy sales of its $20 collectible popcorn tubs. Swiftie(s), as fans of Swift are known, is a registered trademark to which Swift owns the rights.

Counsel and Other Litigation

A look at Swift’s preferred counsel shows that in  2017, she transitioned from the Nashville, Tenn.-based firm Rose IP Law to national firm Venable LLP for trademark registrations.

Yet, Venable’s representation of Swift extends beyond the intellectual property realm. In 2015, the firm successfully defended Swift in a tortious interference with contract suit brought by a radio DJ who claimed Swift had been responsible for his firing. Swift countersued for assault and battery, seeking and securing $1 in “symbolic” damages after a Colorado jury returned findings entirely in her favor.

A federal court search for Swift and her intellectual property and production companies, limited by “nature of suit” tag to trademark, patent, copyright, products liability, fraud, and contract in the last ten years shows modest activity, with just 26 filings.

Of these suits, the most were filed against Swift in Los Angeles, Calif. by music industry players alleging copyright infringement.

One of those suits was filed by two songwriters who claimed that Swift and Sony Music lifted lyrics from their  2001 song “Playas Gon’ Play.” The complaint alleged that though Swift’s use of the lyrics in her song “Shake It Off” was not identical, it still abused Sean Hall and Nate Butler’s copyright.

The 2017 suit concluded in 2022 when the parties stipulated to its dismissal and while the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment was pending. Details of the parties’ agreement were not made public. There, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP defended Swift.

Another copyright victory for Swift came from a suit filed in Memphis, Tenn. last year claiming that Swift’s 2019 album “Lover” and accompanying book “included a number of creative elements that copied expressive designs and arrangements” of Teresa La Dart’s 2010 book, “Lover,” without authorization or credit.

Swift, once again represented by Venable, responded with a motion to dismiss. “No trier of fact could rationally determine the two works are substantially similar, let alone strikingly similar,” the filing said. La Dart voluntarily dismissed the case less than six months later.