Taylor Swift has no legal recourse for masters

Swift’s attorney releases statement on public battle

Music attorneys are claiming that Taylor Swift has no legal recourse for obtaining her masters from Scooter Braun after his firm purchased her former label Big Machine Label Group from Scott Borchetta for more than $300 million earlier this week. The sale included the masters to Swift’s first six albums, and the singer/songwriter is not happy about it.

After the deal was made public on Sunday (June 30th), Swift penned an open letter about how “sad and grossed out” she is that Braun, who she claims has bullied her, now owns “my life’s work.”

“I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world. All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years,” she shared. “Like when Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients together to bully me online about it. Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked. Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.”

Beverly Hills attorney Don Passman is representing Swift. He shared a statement with The Hollywood Reporter about the public dispute, stating, “Scott Borchetta never gave Taylor Swift an opportunity to purchase her masters, or the label, outright with a check in the way he is now apparently doing for others.”

Attorneys state that Swift’s issue is personal and not a legal one. “She has no legal recourse,” music specialist Howard King, who represents artists including Kanye West (an on-and-off Braun client), Pharrell Williams and Avenged Sevenfold tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The masters are the record company’s property. There’s nothing in a contract that says they can’t sell it to another company. In fact, it happens all the time. There’s no key man clause in these recording agreements.”

King also suggests that Swift could refuse to perform her Big Machine songs in concert which diminishes the value of the songs. However, he says the news will defuse as Swift’s new album Lover is released via Republic Records later this summer.

Derek Crownover, a Nashville-based entertainment and music lawyer, agrees it’s unlikely Swift has a case. “The devil is in the details,” he says. “But from the satellite view, I don’t see any legal ramifications that could come of this, unless there were restrictions on the sale of the masters to third parties.” He says there’s a theoretical idea that an agreement could contain a right to match an offer for the masters, but it’s uncommon.

Despite Braun owning the masters, Swift is still the owner of the compositions. Therefore, she still has some control over use of the tracks. For example, a movie studio would need permission from both Braun and Swift to license “Tim McGraw” for a film as Swift is the songwriter.

Alex Heiche of Sound Recordings, a financial services company geared toward creatives in the music and entertainment industry that focuses on songwriters and performers earning income from their music, says artists don’t often agree with the business decisions surrounding their masters.

“If an artist doesn’t own their masters, it limits their control and say over where their music gets placed or how it gets used. Therefore it is prudent to be mindful of all paperwork and look at the long-term outcome of any music deals,” he says. “The same goes for copyrights of music. If you don’t own the copyrights to your music, or give up control of them over time, it limits the long-term earning potential and royalties for that music.

Heiche continues, “The recent shift to a singles and streaming world has empowered creatives to launch their creative works independently and retain one hundred percent ownership in a way they have never been able to before. To reach the pinnacle of their career, they will need industry help and therefore need to negotiate terms that work for them with every stage of their career in mind. While most record labels look to cut fair deals with the best interest of the artists in mind, there are a lot of scenarios in which artists may not agree with logical business decisions.”

Both Borchetta and Braun’s wife, Yael, have spoken out about the controversy.

“You were given the opportunity to own your masters, you passed,” Yael Braun shares on Instagram. “Interesting the man you’re so ‘grossed out’ by believed in you more than you believe in yourself. Your dad is a shareholder and was notified, and Borchetta personally told you before this came out. So no, you didn’t find out with the rest of the world.”

Borchetta followed shortly after with a post of his own, including a screenshot of an offer that was made to Swift where she owned everything she ever did for the label.

“I am attaching a few very important deal points in what was part of our official last offer to Taylor Swift to remain at Big Machine Records. Her 13 Management team and attorney Don Passman went over this document in great detail and reported the terms to her in great detail.

“Taylor and I then talked through the deal together.

“As you will read, 100% of all Taylor Swift assets were to be transferred to her immediately upon signing the new agreement. We were working together on a new type of deal for our new streaming world that was not necessarily tied to ‘albums’ but more of a length of time.”

In its 14 years of existence, BMLG companies have amassed over 118 No. 1 songs and sold over 65 million albums worldwide. Six of the Top 10 digital country songs of all time have all been released by BMLG or by BMLG artists including Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” as well as their collaboration with Bebe Rexha titled “Meant To Be”; Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”; Swift’s “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me”; and The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young.”

Author: Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.