Taylor Swift Is Fighting With Her Former Record Label Again [Updated]
Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun, the A-list manager whose company purchased her catalog and former record label Big Machine last year, are once again feuding in public over their respective claims to Swift’s music. This time around, Swift, in an open letter published on Tumblr, accused Big Machine of attempting to prevent her from performing old songs at this month’s American Music Awards, or featuring old songs in a forthcoming Netflix documentary about her life. “The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished,” Swift wrote. “This is WRONG.”
Big Machine has denied refusing to license Swift’s older music. (Her latest album Lover was released through Republic.) “We were shocked to see her tumblr statements yesterday based on false information. At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special,” the label said in a statement. “We have continued to honor all of her requests to license her catalog to third parties as she promotes her current record in which we do not financially participate.” The statement also claims Swift owes the label millions of dollars. (For more on the complicated history between Swift, Braun, and Big Machine, you can read SPIN’s explainer of the feud here.)
A representative for Swift promptly responded today by sharing with several news outlets a purported email from Big Machine dated October 28, 2019 that states the label would “not agree to issue licenses for existing recordings or waivers of its re-recording restrictions” so that Swift might sing old music at a recent sales event hosted by the Chinese company Alibaba, or include early music in the Netflix project. The rep also claimed Big Machine told Swift earlier this week that she could not perform that music at the AMAs. (The award show is produced by Dick Clark Productions, which shares a parent company with SPIN.)
Entertainment attorneys told The New York Times and Rolling Stone that while Big Machine may be legally allowed to prevent Swift from performing old songs on television, it would be an unusual and perhaps unprecedented decision. Swift claimed on Tumblr that the label is withholding those licenses until she agrees to cancel her previously announced plans to re-record her first six albums in a studio as a way of circumventing Big Machine’s ownership of the original master recordings. The legality of that potential chess move remains unclear to this simple-minded blogger.
Whatever happens, this latest spat has already gotten messy. Swift has a dedicated fanbase, which she certainly knew would treat the enemies she named in her Tumblr post—including Braun, Big Machine head Scott Borchetta, and Carlyle Group, a private equity investor in Braun’s company Ithaca Holdings—with very little chill. The Times reports that Twitter has deleted multiple posts that violated the platform’s terms of service by including Braun and Borchetta’s phone numbers. On the bright side, everyone involved in this dispute will remain very wealthy regardless of how the legal dispute plays out.
Update (11/18): Big Machine and Dick Clark Productions have reached an agreement that removes any barriers to Swift performing at the American Music Awards, Billboard reports. A joint statement notes that Swift did not need Big Machine’s permission to perform Big Machine-era songs, but that the production company did need the label’s approval to stream and re-broadcast the performance after it airs.
Update (11/18, 5:00 p.m.): Dick Clark Productions has denied co-authoring the statement that Big Machine issued to media outlets this morning. “Any final agreement on this matter needs to be made directly with Taylor Swift’s management team,” the company said in its own statement. The situation remains confusing.