Look What You Made Me Do – How Taylor’s Swift Action was Better than Revenge
by Eran Soroker & Devorah Spigelman
Look What You Made Me Do may be the title of the sixth track of Taylor Swift’s 2017 hit album Reputation, but it’s also the pop star’s response to Scooter Braun buying the rights to all of her music.
Taylor Swift, the country-turned pop star is known to have Bad Blood with Braun, ever since 2018 when Braun purchased the record label Big Machine and acquired the masters to Swift’s first six albums. When Big Machine announced that they were selling the masters to Swift’s music, they did not afford Swift the opportunity to purchase them herself, and instead sold them to Braun, against Swift’s wishes. Instead of waging a lengthy and costly legal battle against Braun, Swift said It’s Time To Go. She decided to “run, like you’d run from the law” and rerecord her old music, releasing it under the identifying “Taylor’s Version”.
Under general copyright law, ownership typically goes to the author of the work, or in this case the songwriter. There is an exception known as “work for hire” under which an employer owns all work created by the author unless otherwise agreed upon. In Swift’s contract with Big Machine, the masters, meaning the recordings belonged to the record label, and Swift owned the lyrics and musical compositions. The contract also stipulated that Swift was not allowed to rerecord any songs during a set restriction period that expired in November 2020. This meant that all money generated from licensed use of Swift’s music went to Big Machine, and not to her. Swift did not want Braun to own her music, and so when the restriction period expired in November, she began to rerecord the first of her six albums.
Since then, Everything Has Changed. By re-recording her old music, Swift is able to Begin Again, circumvent her old record label, and essentially create covers of her own music, allowing the royalties generated to go to her, and not to Big Machine.
Swift’s new deal with Universal Music Group provides that she owns the lyrics, the music, and the masters, but this does not apply retroactively to the old masters which are owned by Big Machine Forever & Always. The licensing fees from any use of Swift’s old music still go to Braun and Big Machine. Rerecording her music is Better than Revenge, it renders the old music worthless, redirecting revenue away from Braun and back to Swift.
Swift is not yet Out of the Woods, so far she has only rereleased two of the six albums – Fearless and Red. As more Taylor’s Version albums are released, their success may pave the way to a new era in which artists will gain greater control over their music.