Celebrity Trademark Watch: Can Taylor Swift Shake Off Accusations of Trademark Greed?

TSWHad enough of Taylor Swift yet?  For those of you who hate to love her, you might consider Swiftamine, because she is not going anywhere anytime soon.  If anything, her media foot print continues to grow.  And while one expects round-the-clock coverage of the pop music megastar on E! Entertainment Television and the like, she is now showing up on the intellectual property blogs, too.

Back in October, Ms. Swift filed sixteen intent-to-use applications to register the mark THIS SICK BEAT, which, to those in the know, is a lyric from her multi-platinum hit single “Shake it Off.”  The applications claim a variety of goods and services ranging from beauty products, jewelry, and apparel to musical recordings, musical instruments, fan club services, and public appearances.

As sometimes happens when celebrities seek to secure trademark rights in common phrases (is “this sick beat” a common phrase these days?), a backlash has erupted, criticizing the pop mogul for trying to monopolize the free speech of others.  Ms. Swift certainly knows that the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but I suspect even she didn’t anticipate the vitriol that her trademark applications have engendered. Peculate, a self-described “progressive metal” composer, decried Swift’s applications and trademarks in general as “a direct attack on one of the most fundamental and inalienable rights of all: our freedom of speech.” The “bourgeoisie” such as Swift, the argument continues, “have already privatized land, water, and words. After language, they will next try to privatize air.” At least that is how Peculate sees it and, in an apparent act of protest, he has released the song “This Sick BeatTM” (warning – turn down your speaker volume).

Of course, Peculate and all others concerned that Taylor Swift is setting the stage to take over the world, can rest easy.  Trademark registrations do not confer upon the owner the right to dictate how a word or phrase will be used by anyone who cares to utter it.  Trademarks do confer the exclusive right to use a word, phrase, image, or other designation in commerce and in connection with the marketing or sale of particular goods or services in order to distinguish them from those of others.  Trademarks are an indication of source, not a license to restrain speech.  In addition, trademark registrations grant trademark owners certain rights and privileges, such as national priority in the registered mark and the right to use the ® symbol.

So, the next time you are on the dance floor and the DJ spins your favorite tune, feel free to proclaim, “I love this sick beat.”  You will not have to send Taylor Swift a check.  As for Peculate, maybe a bit of legal knowledge will help mend the rift with Ms. Swift, although I suspect they are never, ever, ever getting back together.

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