Friday, April 19, 2024

The Second Time Around


Guest Blogger Oliver A. Ruiz:

By now, you are no doubt aware that Taylor Swift's new album was released at midnight. Unless you don't have a smartphone, radio, or TV. 

Speaking of TV, some will recognize that to also mean "Taylor's Version," a reference to the albums that Ms. Swift has re-recorded in recent years. You may even know that she has two such albums left to re-record (or maybe just one more, if Reputation TV was also released last night, or very soon as rumored; h/t Kelly Malloy). 

But why do musical artists re-record albums? You may be wondering if this is permitted by copyright law? What does this mean for agreements with record labels? All good questions, and hopefully, this will be your chance to impress a Swiftie in your life. 

Basically, there are a few types of copyrights associated with musical works. Relevant here, these are the compositions (lyrics and melody) and the sound recordings (the original performance, or master recording). This circular talks about the difference. Commonly, the artist will own the copyright in the composition, but music labels negotiate to obtain the rights to the sound recordings. The rights to the sound recordings are typically very lucrative and come with the right to, among other things, license those recordings. The agreements between the artists and the record labels typically have a restriction on re-recording for a period of years, to avoid having the artists re-record the works.

In Taylor Swift's case, the restrictive time period lapsed a few years ago, opening the door for her to re-record her early albums. For some artists, there may be little to gain in doing so, but for a world-renowned artist with a major following like Ms. Swift, it has been a successful endeavor. 

Other artists have done the same, albeit for different reasons. See, for example, Def Leppard.

For more information on Ms. Swift's re-recordings and a discussion on copyright law and the dynamics of record deals, you may be interested in reading this law review article:

Justin Tilghman, Exposing the "Folklore" of Re-Recording Clauses (Taylor's Version), 29 J. Intell. Prop. L. 402, 406 (2022).


Anonymous said...

Very insightful article, Oliver - Ms. Swift's re-records have become an intellectual property case study of their own, demanding the attention of fans, entertainment industry members, and attorneys alike.

Anonymous said...


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