Between yesterday and today, CNN, BBC, Rolling Stone, and Time all reported that Taylor Swift has trademarked a few phrases from her most recent album, 2014’s 1989. While I can certainly understand copyrighting a song, I find Swift’s actions today just a little over-zealous (okay, that’s a lie; they’re very over-zealous).
First, let’s draw a very clear distinction between copyrighting and trademarking. Copyrighting is something that most, if not all, creative artists do to protect their creative works (including songs, books, movies, etc.) against plagiarism and unsanctioned reproductions. Copyrighting is very normal, and no one gives it a second thought. Trademarking, on the other hand, is not the same as copyrighting. Trademarking means that one cannot produce any physical products with the trademarked material on them. For example, Apple’s logo is a registered trademark, and therefore can only be reproduced on merchandise like shirts or stickers with the explicit permission of the Apple corporation. Trademarking a logo or tagline makes a lot of sense in the business world. Trademarking random phrases (some as short as three words!) from a pop-music album does not.
While I can respect Swift for attempting to further her brand with what may appear as a savvy business move, I can’t understand how she intends to trademark certain phrases that are so general that I couldn’t believe any patent court could deliver ownership of them to her alone. Generic phrases like “this sick beat” and “party like it’s 1989” are among the pieces now off limits for production on a slew of products, including: aprons, napkin holders, walking sticks, and, indeed, “non-medicated” toiletries. Ironically, the lead single’s title, “shake it off,” is not on the list.
So here’s the takeaway: for anyone who turned 18 or 21 in 1989, no partying like it’s 1989—Taylor Swift now owns that year; that means no cute little party hats, no commemorative t-shirts, and no celebratory anniversary cakes with the banned phrase written in icing. Skaters and rockers, no scrawling “this sick beat” on your guitars and drumkits—Swift owns all sick beats that can be described as “sick” from now on. I really wonder just how problematic this is going to be for people who already have bits of these phrases tattooed on their bodies—do they have a certain time period during which they can have them removed without legal action…? Okay, if Swift gets “this sick beat” then I think it’s only fair I get to trademark “I like music.” In honor of this incredible piece of news today, I have composed a poem:
A Swiftly Flowing Love Ballad
I love a song’s rhythm and pulse
It’s become the only thing I want to know
This sick beat is such a treat
I hear it all up and down the street
It makes me think I’ll find my soul mate soon
I just hope it turns out to be you
And I feel lucky for just getting to listen
It’s just so nice to meet you, where you been
For all the time I was looking for new music
I could show you (some) incredible things
That’ll make you happy, and you’ll never lose it
And please don’t get upset if I get so riled up
‘Cause you know I think we’d never go out of style, bud
Let’s just walk together for a while
I’m sure we could do a couple miles
With your pop-star hand in mine
Here’s to a party like it’s 1989