Taylor Swift’s ‘sick beat’

by Alina Trapova

Having recently withdrawn her entire music catalogue from Spotify, Taylor Swift makes another move, which gives the IP lawyers something to talk about.

She has applied for trade mark registration in the US for snippets of her lyrics such as ‘This Sick Beat’, ‘Nice To Meet You, Where You Been’ and “Cause We Never Go Out of Style”. This can easily be described as another clever response to the constant threats the digital world poses. In times when everything is digital and piracy levels affect sales and revenue numbers for musicians and record labels, Taylor Swift exploits her intellectual property rights in all ways possible. And she is not the only one – across the ocean in the UK very recently Rihanna won her passing off case against Topshop.

However, after such news the average reasonable person, to which the common law courts often refer to, can get slightly worried. Has this paved the way for all celebrities to trade mark every aspect of their works? Does this mean that no other artist can use these lyrics in other songs?

The answer is – not at all. Under trade mark law one is allowed to apply for protection of a mark with respect to a certain class of goods. As a result, there are two misconceptions that the media gave rise to:

  • Before a mark is registered the application has to be evaluated by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Marks short of inherent distinctiveness or secondary meaning will be refused registration. Slogans most of the times will have to acquire distinctiveness because phrases such as those in question here will be descriptive.
  • Registration is only possible with respect to a certain class of goods. In Taylor Swift’s case she only seeks to register her marks in the class of particular merchandise which she is already selling.

Mark Jaffe, a US trade mark and copyright lawyer, has summarised the chaos by saying that ‘’People want to talk about overreach of IP law in general – and there is a place for that – but the Taylor Swift story (or arguably non-story) isn’t really the one to make that point.”

Alina Trapova
Assistant Editor