Dr. Law: Taylor Swift's Contract Explained

Let's learn more about what this means for Taylor!

August 27, 2019

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Dr. Angela Rulffes--who holds Bachelor's, Master's, a JD and PhD degrees--is an Assistant Professor of Communications Law at Ithaca College and Newhouse School's online program at Syracuse University. She is knowledgeable in contract law, so we knew she'd be able to give us a better understanding of all the confusing stuff happening with Taylor Swift owning her recordings.

Dr. Rulffes says Taylor's decision is not surprising because of the accessibility of music these day. Some artists sign contracts right away when they're young and new... but once they're established, they're like oh wait... I want that control.

Taylor Swift told CBS Sunday Morning that she plans to re-record her old albums to own the masters, but due do contract terms (likely a re-record clause), she can't until November 2020. 

What does all of this mean?  

When you write and record a song, there are two copyrights to consider: The first is music composition copyright, which Taylor has. These are the lyrics and arrangements that she writes and creates. The other is sound recording copyright. This is the master recording that we've heard about since this story came out. This is when an artist goes into the studio and actually records the song. The record label owns this. 

For example, if someone wants to do a cover of an artist's song, they have to get music composition rights (permission) from the artist. But if they want to use that original recording for a movie or a commercial, they have to get the master right from the record label. 

So Taylor will essentially be recording covers of her older music. 

Wow... there's A LOT of complexity with music copyright law! If you're interested in what it all means for Taylor, learn more in our interview with Dr. Rulffes! 

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