Will Taylor Swift get her song lyrics trademarked?
24 February 2015 by Michael Downing
Country singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has been criticized for filing trademark applications for song lyrics, such as “This Sick Beat.”, “Cause We Never Go out of Style” and “party like it’s 1989”. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Taylor Swift has also filed two other applications to register “Nice to Meet You, Where Have You Been?” and “Could Show You Incredible Things.” Should her trademark applications be granted, her words will not be free for use on a range of commercial products including clothing, toys, stationery, musical instruments and jewellery – unless you negotiate her authorisation.
So those who are wanting to get slogans with these phrases on their clothing may have to ask Taylor Swift for her permission. While Taylor Swift’s approach might be a bit obscure, the world of trademarks has a lot to do with her wanting to get these trademarks protected. It is however a smart business and legal move to try and pre-empt the possibility of people trying to take them for themselves, some would say she is only protecting her brand!
Some of the media have reported that her application has been granted, but that’s not (yet?) the case. It’s worth noting that her applications have to be examined first, and that it could take years for them to come to a decision. There may be a lot of hurdles along the way, for example there might be an earlier trademark that conflicts with the lyric. Taylor Swift may also need to prove that the lyric is “distinctive”, i.e. that it will be seen as a marker of the products’ origins rather than just an artistic embellishment. That said, it looks like the Patent & Trademark Office is taking a generally positive view of the applications.
Michael Downing, Trademark Attorney at Downing IP says that “as long as the trademark is unique and distinctive, you can pretty much trademark anything. However, in cases like these it is usually the distinctiveness requirement which catches people out. That said, the wide reporting of these applications is probably doing a lot of good from her perspective, as it is telling people that these phrases are hers”.
There has never been an artist who has successfully trademarked a lyric. However titles of albums is certainly common. In 1988, Madonna trademarked her own name and in 2010, Beyoncé successfully trademarked the name of her alter ego, Sasha Fierce. There have been a number of pop stars over the years who have tried to trademark a lyric or phrase, only to dismiss the application or are still trying:
- Madonna Ciccone in 2004 applied to trademark the phrase “Membership has its rewards”. As the slogan sounds very similar to the American Express tag line, “Membership has its privileges”, the application faced objections and eventually the applicant gave up.
- Britney Spears in 2005 applied to trademark the song title “Toxic.”
- Beyoncé in 2008 tried to trademark the lyric “Get Me Body,”
- And in 2011, Taylor Swift dismissed an application herself to trademark the phrase “Love, love, love,”
So what will happen to “This Sick Beat” or “Party like it’s 1989”? Only time will tell It could be a number of years before we find out! For confidential, professional advice regarding Trademarks, Patents or Design Protection please contact us on 01494 422626 or email firstname.lastname@example.org