Archive | January 2015

Taylor Swift’s Trademarks and Me

I’m not a big fan of Taylor Swift, nor am I a hater of her, but today’s report on MSNBC’s “Now with Alex Wagner” about her application to trademark certain popular phrases from her song lyrics reminded me of my own experience with Taylor Swift — well, actually, just with her “people” — and induced me to post about it here.

I’m a collage artist.  Not a famous one.  In fact, as artists go, I’m pretty much a nobody.  I post pictures of my collages in a blog so that people can make me feel good by praising them, and I list them on various online sales sites in hopes of making a few dollars now and then.  My collages are made from bits of magazine paper, most not very old, so on one hand you might say that I’m lucky I haven’t had more copyright complaints, but I’ve actually only ever had one, which wasn’t really a matter of copyright, but more of sensitivity — someone recognized an image of his deceased mother in one of my creations, communicated to me through an intermediary how upset he was that I had used his mother’s picture in something I was selling online, and asked me to remove it from my site.  I was horrified — not at his request, but at myself.  I already knew when I created the collage that the woman in the picture was deceased, and it had never even occurred to me that people who knew her might come upon the collage and be upset by my use of the picture.  The fact that the original picture was published in a widely available magazine was no excuse.  I not only removed the collage from my site, but destroyed the original — the only one of my originals that I have ever destroyed — and spent the next year trying to get references to it removed from search engines.

But back to Taylor Swift.  I do most of my online collage listings on Etsy, which has a lot of strong language about copyright violations in its terms of service.  I’ve only had a listing taken down by Etsy once, for a collage that was inspired by an elaborate gold-metallic gown Ms. Swift wore to some awards ceremony.  When I listed the collage on Etsy, I mentioned that in my description.  There was no picture of her in the collage, and no use of her name in the title or the tags, just the fact that this gown she had worn had inspired the collage.  Next thing you know, I’m contacted by the Etsy legal department, informing me that they are removing the listing because Taylor Swift’s “people” have complained about a copyright violation.  When I pointed out that there was no photo of her in the collage, and no use of her name in the title or tags, they said that their job was done and I would have to deal directly with her “people”.  Yeah, right, they’re going to talk to me about a postcard-sized collage.

So, I left the listing down for a few months and then put it back, exactly as it had been except for removing the sentence about what had inspired me, and I’ve never had a problem with it since.  Apparently, Taylor Swift, or at least her “people” are so protective of her public persona that even saying that you’re inspired by her is a violation of her copyright, but she’d love for you to be inspired by her as long as you don’t use her name when you say so.  Yes, I understand the whole thing about the empowerment of a woman in a mostly male industry, but if no one is allowed to mention her name (or quote her lyrics) without permission, or her “people” are going to start filing lawsuits against girls performing her songs in middle school talent contests staged to raise money for new band uniforms, her plan may have unintended consequences in terms of damage to the very image she’s trying to protect.

So, Ms. Swift, enjoy your new trademarks.  Since I don’t actually listen to your music very much, I am totally unaware of your lyrics (except for the ones Alex quoted on her program today), which means that there’s a pretty good chance I’ll violate your trademarks at some point.  Looking forward to hearing from your “people” again soon.