Intellectual Property Attorney

Taylor Swift, Trademarks, and Song Lyrics

Not only was Taylor Swift’s 1989 the
bestselling album of 2014, it may have also spawned one of the most interesting “Trademark Protests” of 2015.

Swiftly capitalizing on Taylor’s success, team-Swift has filed numerous trademark applications related to phrases that are memorable lyrics from the album. Among those phrases is the now iconic “This Sick Beat” from the hit track
Shake it Off. Her applications seek trademark protection for everything from
educational services to
hair accessories.

Some observers have expressed anger or even outrage at Taylor Swift’s attempts to secure trademark protection: perhaps none more vocally than Ben Norton.

Mr. Norton, a heavy metal artist, took to YouTube to express his anger over Swift’s move. Under his metal project
Peculate, Mr. Norton recorded and released nearly two minutes of himself singing the lyrics “This Sick Beat” over and over again in heavy metal style. In his
public statement, Mr. Norton notes that while he “believe[s] that workers should benefit from the fruit of their labor” “phrases like ‘this sick beat’ are not the fruits of Swift’s ‘labor’.” Rather, says Mr. Norton, they are “part of the linguistic and cultural commons.”

Many others have wisely recognized that team-Swift’s efforts are likely more about protecting Taylor’s image than either preventing others from capitalizing off of her hard work or trying to wring a few more dollars of profit for herself out of 1989.

While Mr. Norton may disagree, were one of the more than half a billion people who have watched Shake it Off on YouTube to see someone walking down the street wearing a “This Sick Beat” t-shirt or munching on a bag of “This Sick Beat” potato chips, they may well think about Taylor Swift – and wonder if she had a connection to the t-shirt or the potato chips. While Taylor Swift did not coin the phrase, if the products are ultimately deemed to be of poor quality – doesn’t Taylor have the right to take steps so that her reputation is not incorrectly harmed? And, frankly, what is wrong with Taylor earning extra money from her hard work! Certainly no one deserves the money more than her!

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