After Taylor Swift’s lyrics and Katy Perry’s left shark: copyright grandstanding is set to continue

US lawyers representing singers Taylor Swift and Katy Perry have sent out cease and desist orders to protect their clients’ intellectual property: song lyrics and a Superbowl shark. But are all these claims just for show?

Taylor Swift’s management company TAS Rights Management is understood to have sent a letter to ecommerce website Etsy regarding vendors using her image and lyrics that she filed for trademarking on items sold through the online marketplace. 

Meanwhile, earlier this month Swift filed for trade marks on song lyrics like ‘Party like it’s 1989’, ‘This sick beat’ and ‘Nice to meet you, where you been?’ through lawyers at US firm Milom Horsnell Crow Rose Kelley. 

Ese Akpogheneta of Pitmans says that almost anything can be trademarked. “It is possible as long as the trademark is distinctive. Swift has only filed in the US: the trademark office will examine it to ensure it is distinctive.”

“She won’t get any damages unless she gets registration. Her representatives are marking their territory, and scaring people a little bit.”

Hogan Lovells IP partner Charlie Winckworth adds: “Securing a trade mark for a song lyric – even one as catchy as Taylor Swift’s – is going to be much more difficult in the UK than it is in the US.”

Winckworth says that one of the points that right holders have to be aware of is that serving a notice and having a listing pulled from a site could amount to a threat under the UK Trade Marks Act. “What this means is that if your trade mark turns out not to be worth the paper it’s written on, the rights holder will find themselves on the wrong end of a claim form,” he said.

The singer has been vocal about her rights as a musician before, pulling her songs from online music streaming service Spotify earlier this year after claiming that the platform hurt music sales.

Katy Perry
Perry: likes sharks

After gaining worldwide attention on the same weekend, Katy Perry’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to 3D printing service Shapeways to stop distributing a model representing a Super Bowl halftime show shark (later denominated ‘Left Shark’), which was used during her popular act.

’Left Shark’ became an internet hit after is appeared to forget its steps during a dance routine with the singer – which could be argued was the cause of any popularity associated with the figure. The letter claimed that the shark’s image was the property of Katy Perry and said that the use of it was copyright infringement. 

This is the latest in a series of IP conflicts relating to the music industry. Last month, Reed Smith and barristers from 8 New Square and Hogarth Chambers successfully defended the rights of international pop star Rihanna in a battle against a t-shirt bearing her image sold by high street retailer Topshop (22 January 2015).

Akpogheneta believes that this trend for copyright grandstanding is set to continue: “They might knock out potential infringers to put people on notice that you will defend your rights. Quite a lot of companies do that, especially in the entertainment arena. They want to make sure that they do enough to secure their brand.”

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