With a net worth of $64m, 54m Twitter followers, three Grammy nominations and her second stint at the number one spot in the UK album charts, you would think Taylor Swift is pretty content. But this seemingly isn’t enough for the 25 year old musician, who has been one of the first to pre-empt third party exploitation in a rapidly changing market.

Following on from the business-savvy move to pull her latest album from Spotify in order to boost album sales, Swift has applied to trade mark certain lyrical phrases such as ‘this sick beat’, ‘nice to meet you, where you been?’ and ‘party like it’s 1989’. Swifties (that’s the crazy devoted Taylor Swift fan base) all over the Twittersphere were buzzing about this news, with questions of ‘Why?’ ‘How?’ and even, ‘If I now sing a Taylor Swift lyric in public, will I be arrested on the spot?’ 

Whilst we can’t make any promises on the arrest one, we’ve answered some of these questions to give you a simple guide as to why, and how, and when, musicians have trade marked lyrics or phrases.

Why?

Whilst many an ex-mogul have stated that ‘the music industry is dead’, the truth in fact is that the music industry is changing. Artists need to find ways of tapping into alternative revenue streams within the industry, as opposed to good old record sales. Therefore, Swift and her team have noted the potential in the merchandising of lyrics that become ‘catchphrases’, aided massively by the growth of social media support for artists. By trade marking such phrases, Swift is pre-emptively stopping third parties from exploiting their popularity by placing them on their products, therefore ensuring she rightfully holds the monopoly she created. 

It would appear that Taylor Swift is not alone in this rigorous image protection. Despite the image being of her face rather than her lyrics, the pop star Rihanna recently won her long-running court action for ‘passing off’ in the UK against Topshop, whereby the high street chain sold un official T-Shirts with her face on the front, leading to a likelihood of the public thinking she had endorsed the item in question. Moreover, Deadmau5 and the Walt Disney Company have been embroiled in a long running legal battle, as the DJ is fighting to secure trade mark for his mouse-shaped headpiece in order to monopolise on merchandising, much to the dismay of Disney and their long-established Mickey ears. 

How?

Usually when we think of trade marks, we think of big corporations and their logos, such as Apple, or Coca-Cola. But can phrases really be trade marked? The answer is yes, but depending on the circumstances. 

In the US, very similarly to the UK, in order to have a trade mark you must firstly have a term that is not generic, such as the commonly used name for the product you are trying to sell, as it would be against free competition to allow such a monopoly over one product. For example, the stationary company Parker would not be allowed to trade mark the term ‘Pen’, as this would oust all other stationary companies from using that term. Secondly, the term you are trying to trade mark cannot be descriptive of the product you are trying to sell – e.g. if Apple Inc. sold apples, or if Coca Cola sold…let’s not go there.

So, in order to have a trade mark under US law you must have both these requirements, which, when looking to the phrases that Taylor Swift is trying to trademark, seem to apply just fine. 

This sick feat?

Whilst Taylor Swift’s global success is undeniable, there’s been some doubt about her prospects of success in this legal action, as she is the first musician to trade mark a song lyric. 

Despite this, there are some parallels and precedents around trade marking phrases. For example, socialite Paris Hilton trade marked her ‘that’s hot’ catchphrase resulting in a settlement for an undisclosed sum with Hallmark in 2010 for using it. In addition, US wrestling commentator Michael Buffer managed to trade mark his phrase ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’, making an estimated $400m. And, in 2002 the phrase ‘man of the match’ was trademarked and subsequently auctioned off in 2012. Moreover, businessman Mark Coop registered the trademark to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ in 2011. 

So, whilst we are waiting for the response of the US Patent and Trade mark Office, it would appear pretty likely that phrases can be trade marked. And, if Taylor Swift’s current success and marketability is anything to go by, we can see why she would want such a trade mark. 

Having a good name in business can be the difference between success and failure. The name of your business is one of your most valuable assets as without it, you’re no longer easy to identify from the crowd. We can register your trade mark in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. Why not contact us today to book your free consultation to discuss your legal requirements in further detail, we’ll be delighted to talk to you! 

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Ryan Lisk

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Ryan has helped a vast number of businesses protect and control their intellectual property as well as drafting and advising on consumer and commercial contracts.

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