Taylor Swift vs. Etsy Vendors: Singer Trademarks Song Phrases
America’s red-lipped singing sweetheart Taylor Swift is at the center of another intellectual property dispute, this time with vendors on Etsy. The dispute is over several items, including t-shirts using her likeness and candles adorned with her lyrics. Swift’s legal team sent several vendors on the online DIY marketplace cease and desist letters demanding the immediate removal of their trademark-infringing products.
This takedown spree comes just one week after Swift registered phrases from her album “1989” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The phrases include:
- “Party like it’s 1989”
- “This sick beat”
- “Nice to meet you, where you been?”
- “Could show you incredible things”
- “Cause we never go out of style”
If you’re wondering why her hit song’s title “Shake it off” didn’t make the list, that’s probably because it’s because the phrase was already trademarked by a diet company.
The singer already holds a slew of other trademarks related to her music, which she has been notoriously protective over. She made headlines back in November when she pulled all of her music from the popular music streaming website Spotify, claiming the site didn’t adequately compensate artists for their work. Swift’s label is also quick to have users on YouTube take down lyric videos because they can be converted into mp3s that violate copyrights.
The Etsy vendors who received the cease and desist letters were shocked to have been singled out by the singer’s camp for making what they thought were just fan items. One anonymous vender told Buzzfeed:
We originally made the item for fun, we love Taylor and we had friends that love Taylor. We never intended for it to be a profit making item. The cost of the item covered shipping costs, and production costs with very little left over.
When we got the e-mail that the trademark infringement occurred, we were pretty shocked because while our item was popular we didn’t feel as if it had become popular enough to cause harm to Taylor Swift’s empire. We were shocked. And we were scared. We didn’t even make enough money for a lawyer and this had seemed like such a harmless and fun idea.
If you’re a T-Swift fan don’t fret, there’s still plenty of other merchandise with “1989” lyrics being sold on the site that Swift has yet to legally claim, like this classic coffee mug.
— Fusion (@ThisIsFusion) January 29, 2015
Many are wondering how it’s even possible for Swift to trademark popular phrases like “Nice to meet you, where you been?” in the first place. Richard Rochford, a partner in New York’s intellectual property litigation group Haynes and Boone, explained to Billboard that unlike copyright law, trademark rights don’t require the phrases to be absolutely unique or for the applicant to have coined them personally. This makes it easy for artists like Swift to acquire rights to these phrases if they can prove that they’re profiting off of a phrase associated with their brand. Britney Spears attempted to do the same thing, trying to trademark her popular song title “Toxic,” as well as Beyonce with her alter ego “Sasha Fierce”.
Ultimately this is smart move by Swift, showing that the 25-year-old singer doesn’t want to messed with. By marking her territory now, she can ensure others won’t be able to profit off of her brand if and when she decides to produce her own merchandise using the phrases.