Image Credit: Jon Kopaloff / FilmMagic
This Sunday, November 24, Taylor Swift will be honored with an Artist of the Decade award at the American Music Awards (“AMAs”). As part of accepting this award, Swift was set to perform a medley of her hits. On November 14, Swift took to social media to post to complain that Scooter Braun, recent acquirer of music label Big Machine Label Group (“BMLG”) and Scott Borchetta, President and CEO of BMLG, were forbidding her from performing any songs off of her first six albums at the AMAs.
Braun, through BMLG, owns the rights to the master recordings of Swift’s first six albums. Swift’s pre-existing agreement with that label contains a “re-record” restriction that prohibits her from re-recording versions of her early works and releasing and distributing them independently of BMLG. This re-recording prohibition ends in November 2020. This past summer, Swift announced that she plans to re-record her albums in order to own the music that she wrote.
Essentially, Swift alleges that BMLG is enforcing the terms of this contract in a way that limits her ability to perform her music at the AMAs because this would constitute “re-recording” her music before she is contractually allowed to do so. Though she is legally allowed to perform her own music, any performance cannot be re-recorded and aired later without express permission. Given the nature of the AMAs, performances are bound to be recorded and posted online.
At the end of her post, Swift encouraged her fans to “let Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun know how you feel about this,” and released both men’s private contact information on Twitter. The following day, BMLG released a statement to Billboard, in which it claimed that the narrative Swift created “does not exist.” BMLG does not explicitly deny Swift’s allegations, it only denied saying that she could not perform at the AMAs. BMLG further claimed that Swift encouraging her fans to take action “greatly affects the safety of [their] employees and their families.” In fact, Scooter Braun and his family recently received death threats over this issue.
Following BMLG’s claims, a spokeswoman for Swift told Billboard that in late October, BMLG opted against issuing licenses for existing recordings or “waiving its re-recording restrictions” for the AMAs. On Monday, November 18, BMLG announced that it “agreed to grant all licenses of their artists’ performances to stream post show and for re-broadcast on mutually approved platforms.” However, AMAs producer, Dick Clark Productions, released a subsequent statement that stated it has not agreed to “create, authorize or distribute a statement in partnership with Big Machine Label Group regarding Taylor Swift’s performance at the 2019 American Music Awards,” because “[a]ny final agreement on this matter needs to be made directly with Taylor Swift’s management team.”
As of now, there is major confusion as to what Swift will be allowed to perform at Sunday night’s AMAs. Swifties will have to tune in to find out whether an agreement was reached.
Liz Costello, University at Buffalo School of Law, Class of 2020. Liz is the Treasurer of the Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Law Society, an Articles Editor of the Buffalo Law Review, and an anticipated associate at Rupp Baase Pfalzgraf Cunningham LLC. Having grown up in Los Angeles with an entertainment attorney mother, Liz is especially interested in the legal issues surrounding music, film, television, and sports. Her favorite activities include going to local live music and sporting events.