Taylor Swift One Ups Katy Perry Again: Threatens To Sue Fans For Etsy Fan Products

from the because-intellectual-property dept

In the world of pop starlets, apparently Taylor Swift and Katie Perry hate each other. And, now, it appears that both of them are trying to one-up each other in having their lawyers issue legal threats to fans for no good reason. We’ve already written about Katy Perry’s lawyers’ threatening letter over a 3D-printable plan for “the left shark” from her Super Bowl routine (an argument that is legally dubious).

And now it comes out that Taylor Swift’s lawyers are threatening the singer’s fans on Etsy who have been selling products celebrating the singer. As one Etsy seller told Buzzfeed:

We originally made the item for fun, we love Taylor and we had friends that love Taylor. We never intended for it to be a profit making item. The cost of the item covered shipping costs, and production costs with very little left over.

When we got the e-mail that the trademark infringement occurred, we were pretty shocked because while our item was popular we didn?t feel as if it had become popular enough to cause harm to Taylor Swift?s empire. We were shocked. And we were scared. We didn?t even make enough money for a lawyer and this had seemed like such a harmless and fun idea.

The Buzzfeed article also notes that it appears that Swift has hired MarkMonitor, the big player in sending takedown threat letters over copyright and trademark issues, to send such takedown letters.

Depending on the specific products, there may be some legitimate trademark or copyright claims here, but it’s hard to see how any of these actually create any real benefit for Swift, other than pissing off her fans, and angering people who actually wanted to celebrate their fandom of Swift and her music. Yes, these days popstars like Swift are “big businesses” who want to capture every possible penny that they can get from fans, but these kinds of products aren’t doing any real damage to Swift or her brand. The takedowns, however, might be the opposite — creating a real distaste among some fans for daring to try to display their fandom in a unique and creative way.

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Companies: etsy, markmonitor

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Comments on “Taylor Swift One Ups Katy Perry Again: Threatens To Sue Fans For Etsy Fan Products”

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36 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Distaste' doesn't affect the bottom line, so it's easy to brush off

The takedowns, however, might be the opposite — creating a real distaste among some fans for daring to try to display their fandom in a unique and creative way.

Now, if they would actually take some of that distaste and do something about it, like say boycotting her music, then she might actually care. If, on the other hand, they act like far too many ‘consumers’/walking wallets, they’ll probably just take their contemptuous beatings and come right back with a ‘Thank you sir, may I have another?’

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

donut matter, she has made her deal with the devil, so they ‘have to’ sue everyone everywhere…
the taylor swifts/perrys of the world brought to us courtesy of Big Media, are NOTHING more than products to be placed…
they have lost their agency as free and independent human beans who make their own decisions, and are now irretrievably tied to their korporate overlords rapacious policies and actions…

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Is it Taylor swift acting, or the corporate people behind her?

This is the same Taylor Swift that badmouth’d Spotify and forced them to take down all her music for daring to do the same thing that she praised YouTube for doing…making her music available to fans in a walled garden without making them available to everyone (which I am pretty sure I can get to Taylor Swift’s music (if I wanted to) on YouTube without paying or subscribing, thereby defeating her very complaints about Spotify.)

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

YouTube directly monetizes plays of songs for the artist/label. Spotify gives it’s payments to the record labels who pretend to distribute it to the artists.

Fine. But that is not what her stated grievance was. She stated that the reason she didn’t want her music on Spotify was because it would be made available to both subscribers and “free-loaders”, and that there was no way to make the music only available to paid subscribers.

I always found her reasoning to be disingenuous, especially since YouTube doesn’t offer the same thing that she is slamming Spotify for. If her reason for hating Spotify and loving YouTube is about the amount of money each gives her, then she should say that. The problem with her saying that is that she was the one who signed the contract, not her fans, that allowed her label to steal so much money from her via Spotify vs. YouTube, and blaming Spotify because she or her representation is bad at handling her affairs seems equally disingenuous.

Max (profile) says:

I’m every bit as much a Metal/Rock fan as the next guy, but there’s a certain band out there whose name begins with “M” and ends with “etallica” that I refuse to even listen to on the radio because of a little something they did to someone else a long time ago, that I will NEVER forget. As far as I’m concerned, they never existed. So yeah, go right ahead, it’s your funeral…

David says:

Nothing new here

The entertainment industry evolved to become toxic. They are ready to gouge the eyes out that view them and rip the ears off those who listen to them.

It’s just easier to stay away these days and find something better to do with your time and attention.

Getting entertained has about the thrill value of eating fugu: it may be nice but not necessarily worth the risk.

Oblate (profile) says:

Not sure if the threat is the real problem...

Not sure if the threat of a lawsuit is the problem here, or if the real problem is that singers can trademark 3 specific words from a song but used in any context. Once such a seemingly ridiculous trademark is granted, this seems a trademark issue instead of an entertainment industry problem (not that there aren’t plenty of those).

vdev (profile) says:

Copyright and Trademarks

The problem here is that folks seem to have been using things without authorization. That’s a problem for them but it’s also a problem for Taylor Swift. I am not a lawyer so don’t rely upon this as “Legal Advice”, but here’s the scoop …

Copyright protection on something you create such as a song, or a novel, is automatic. You don’t have to register it but you should if it’ll be for sale as you can only sue someone for Copyright infringement once you’re registered it.

Trademarks are very different. You have to apply for them and sometimes it’s turned down. More importantly – you have to defend it. That is, if you discover that someone is abusing your trademark then you must get them to stop. If you don’t take action then you’re at risk of losing that trademark right.

So if the fans received legal notices then one possible action would be to request a license. If it’s really a “fan club”, especially an “official fan club”, then they’d probably get the usage rights they need for almost-free (as long as it’s not a profit-making thing). That’s the way fan clubs work: ask the artist for permission to use certain photos etc, get that permission for the specific purposes, and make things. It’s not hard.

A side note about trying to copyright a phrase: it turns out (and I am surprised) that something such as a book title, song title or album title is NOT eligible for copyright protection. The contents (text, lyrics, music, etc) can be copyrighted but not the titles.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Copyright and Trademarks

It’s not quite that extreme. Yes trademark has a ‘defend it or lose it’ rule, but that doesn’t mean they need to go crazy every time they run across someone using a trademark without permission.

For something like this case, dealing with fans of the creator trying to share their interest, a simple, polite letter would have been much more appropriate, and likely would have lead to an article praising Taylor Swift, rather than pointing out the thuggish ways she and her lawyers were treating their fans.

It wouldn’t even need to be that complex, just something along the lines of:

‘Hey, we noticed that you seem to be big fans of our stuff. As awesome as that is, unfortunately unauthorized use of our trademark has the potential to cause us problems down the road.

Now, since we certainly don’t want to punish someone for liking our work, we’d like to offer you a simple, $1 license so that you can continue to share your love of our music without having to worry about legal problems, and we don’t have to worry about issues down the road either.

Please be aware that the license offer would only apply to [Items A, B, C], and if you come up with different items you’d like to sell in the future, we’d ask that you contact us first so that we can make sure the new items are the kinds of creations that we’d be happy to support before giving our approval, and modifying the license.’

No threats, no bad feelings, just simply explaining why the lawyers are contacting the person, and offering them a simple and cheap deal. Something like that would work out for everyone, the musician gets the kind of PR money can’t buy, the fan likely becomes even more of a fan of the musician, and other people still have new and cool items to run across and buy.

Lori (profile) says:

Re: Re: Copyright and Trademarks

That’s cute – but they aren’t just expressing their “fandom” – they’re selling stuff on Etsy. (They claim they made “very little left over”, but that just makes them bad business people, not innocent fans). It’s just NOT okay to use other people’s image / likeness / celebrity to make a profit without their permission – even if you reeeeeeeeeaaaaaly like them!

If you want to make a lovely candle, or give one to your friend – more power to you! Maybe there’s some copyright issues there, but more than likely you’re talking about fair use. It’s when you cross the line into commercial exploitation that you get these kinds of C&D notices.

Here’s why Taylor Swift doesn’t just offer cheap licenses to fans who take it upon themselves to set up shop on Etsy with her name & lyrics: (1) she has no quality control over something that bears her name – that’s a big issue. Think she should just agree to monitor the thousands of crafters who want to make a buck with their projects? In all her spare time? Or with the $1 licensing fees she’s getting? And what happens when the Taylor Swift candle burns someone’s house down? If Taylor’s team gave them a cheapo license, you think she’s not getting sued over it? Who’s carrying the insurance coverage? (2) she has a team of agents who negotiate HUGE licensing deals with companies who expect exclusivity. If Yankee Candle comes out with the Taylor Swift line, and they’re paying a 5 figure royalty check, you can bet they expect Taylor’s lawyers (or Mark Monitor) to be scouring the web and shutting down people freeloading in their candle market. Maybe this little Esty shop isn’t really cutting in to the market – but maybe they are? How would anyone know if they aren’t paying royalties?

Okay, I’ll grant you that the language in the typical C&D notice is WAY over the top, and can sound “scary” if you were really so clueless that you didn’t realize that you can’t just use a celebrity likeness on a product you offer for sale and not have that be a problem. Maybe they could be warmer and fuzzier about saying “stop trying to make a buck off our client” – but honestly, they shouldn’t have to. These Etsy sellers aren’t being “punished” for liking Taylor. They’re being smacked down for trying to sell stuff with her name on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Copyright and Trademarks

if you were really so clueless that you didn’t realize that you can’t just use a celebrity likeness on a product you offer for sale and not have that be a problem.

But you can if it’s parody or satire. This is just making sure that the only people freely able to use one’s image are those who are ridiculing it. And this sort of crap guarantees that that will be a growing demographic.

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