Nov 2020

Swift v Braun

By: John McLellan

Reading the various press around the latest Taylor Swift v Scooter Braun scrap a few points spring to mind:-

 

  1. The vast majority of artists do not have ownership in their recorded material

This is so globally but is very much the case in Asia. It is very rare for an artist to be in a position to control the ownership of their masters, especially when starting their careers (as for Swift when signing to Big Machine in 2005, when she was a teen). It used to be that the costs of recording (and marketing) were prohibitive, that being the tradeoff for ownership to the record company. However, in the digital age, this is less so. As a consequence, self-recording and thereby artist ownership could now become a more common occurrence.

  1. Reversion of rights

I am often asked by artists when they will get their masters back? The reality is that reversion of rights only exists as a very narrow concept in the US, not in Asia.

  1. Re-recording restrictions

Almost buried in the boiler-plate of most recording contracts are restrictions on the artist from re-recording works recorded during the life of the contract and a term of years thereafter (I have seen as short as 5 years, 10 years+ is more usual).The reasons for the restrictions are quite obvious in that the record company wants to preserve the economic value in the recordings under their control for as long as possible. Absent “live” or “greatest hits” recordings (in which it would also have ownership), it would be unusual for a record company to relax this control. The fact that Swift is now actively re-recording her early catalogue should be a concern to  Shamrock Holdings, the current owner of Swift’s first six albums (and indeed any financier/private equity fund looking to acquire master rights, as is currently in vogue). It remains to be seen whether the “Swifties” prefer the re-recordings of her old hits or the original recordings by the teenage Swift (or both!). Either way, it would, seem to be destined to have an impact on the economic value in the original masters.

As an important note to artists, re-recording restrictions often seek to cover all works recorded during the term of the recording deal. This means that even for unreleased tracks (recorded during the term), the artist could not re-record the same until after the re-recording restriction period expires. With the primary concern of the record companies being the protection of the economic value in the masters released, the artist should try to carve out from the restriction materials recorded but not released.