Taylor Swift and Your Re-Recording Rights Explained
The Taylor Swift Story
Taylor Swift and Big Machine
Taylor Swift was signed to Big Machine Records for her first six records. As you may know, when signed to a standard recording contract, the record label (in this instance, Big Machine) owns the "master" sound recordings recorded during the term of the agreement.
After Swift's contract terminated with Big Machine she attempted to purchase her masters back from the label, but they could not reach an agreement. The masters were later sold to record executive Scooter Braun (at the disgust of Swift), who later sold them to Shamrock Holdings.
Swift Re-Records Her Masters
Here's where it gets interesting. Also in a standard recording contract is what's called a "Re-Record Restriction." A Re-Record Restriction prohibits an artist from recording the same song again for a certain amount of time to avoid the record label from competing against its own song.
Well guess what. The period of time prohibiting Swift from re-recording the songs previously recorded with Big Machine expired. So Swift went ahead and recorded all of her old songs and has been releasing them on her own, thus competing against her old masters (and reportedly winning in a big way as far as sales numbers are concerned).
Breaking It Down Legally
Negotiating Before and After the Record Deal is Signed
First, Swift's story should highlight to artists the importance of looking into the future and understanding your rights when it comes to your masters when making a decision to sign a recording agreement. How long is your re-record restriction? Or perhaps more importantly, is there any chance of reverting ownership in the existing masters back to the artist in the future? The more successful of an artist, the more negotiating power the artist has in negotiating these terms.
When the recording contract expires, if you seek to purchase your masters from the record label, consider the leverage you may have in the negotiating process should you have the ability to re-record the songs. Be sure (in a very polite way, of course!) the label understands your re-record restriction has or is going to expire in the near future and you have full intentions to re-record your songs if they are not willing come down on a price for the sale of your masters.
Legal Effect of Re-Recording a Song
The obvious effect of re-recording your song: You compete against the label's version, earn your own sales revenue and take the revenue from the label.
But what other effect does re-recording your song have? It's important to consider who owns the underlying composition to the song you are re-recording. Why? For synchronization purposes (placing the song in television, film, commercial, video games, etc.) you need approval from both the owner of the sound recording and the underlying composition.
If you are in a position like Taylor Swift, you have a lot of leverage as she had the ability to turn down all synchronization requests for the sound recordings previously owned by Big Machine, and that's exactly what she did. She can now license her new sound recordings (along with her compositions) for synchronization and the masters now owned by Shamrock Holdings are out of luck.
However, it could have the reverse effect. If you signed a publishing deal with an affiliate of your record label, they just may end up doing the same thing. For example, you sign a recording contract with Sony Records and a publishing contract with Sony Music Publishing. Sony Publishing would own the compositions to the songs you are going to re-record. Do you think they would approve licenses for your newly recorded sound recordings, or only seek placements for the recordings owned by Sony Records?
Colin is the founder of Whiskey Ghost Entertainment Law based in Nashville, TN. Colin has represented independent musicians, record labels and publishers with a wide array of representation including the drafting, review and negotiation of record/publishing deals, distribution and band agreements. He has also assisted in the formation of LLC’s, trademark registration and much more. If you have a legal question, please don’t hesitate to email Colin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 615-721-2233.
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