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Taylor Swift's ex-label refutes claims of 'tyrannical control' over her work

Katie Krzaczek
Associate Editor

When Taylor Swift takes the stage at the American Music Awards on Nov. 24 to accept the Artist of the Decade award, her performance could be anything but career-spanning.

In a statement released on Tumblr last night, Swift said she won’t be able to perform songs from her first six albums because of pushback from Scott Borchetta, who’s the founder of her former label, Big Machine Records, and music industry mega-manager Scooter Braun.

“Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun have now said that I’m not allowed to perform my old songs on television because they claim that would be re-recording my music before I’m allowed to next year,” she wrote.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 10: Singer Taylor Swift performs on the stage during the gala of 2019 Alibaba 11.11 Global Shopping Festival at Mercedes-Benz Arena on November 10, 2019 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

In her Tumblr post, titled “Don’t know what else to do,” Swift said Borchetta and Braun are also blocking the use of any of older music or performance footage in an upcoming Netflix (NFLX) documentary about the singer’s life.

Big Machine refuted Swift’s claims. “As Taylor Swift’s partner for over a decade, we were shocked to see her Tumblr statements yesterday based on false information. At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special. In fact, we do not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere,” the company said in a statement.

Swift posted the statement as a call to her fans and to “several artists” managed by Braun with the hope to “talk some sense into the men who are exercising tyrannical control over someone who just wants to play the music she wrote,” she wrote. “I’m especially asking for help from The Carlyle Group, who put up money for the sale of my music to these two men.”

The singer-songwriter, who earned $185 million in 2018, according to Forbes, has said she lost the rights to the first six albums she recorded with Big Machine Label Group when Braun’s Ithaca Holdings purchased the label for $300 million in July, with financial backing by the Carlyle Group (CG), which took a minority stake in Ithaca in 2017.

The deal highlighted a major flaw in the music industry, one that seemingly leaves artists like Swift powerless over the works they’ve created. In traditional label deals, artists exchange the rights to the music recorded for the financial, publicity, and managerial support of a label.

Once an artist breaks off from a label, as Swift left BMLG in 2018, “the label retains control of sound recordings under that agreement. The artist’s work becomes the property of the label,” Larry Miller, director of the music business program at NYU’s Steinhardt School, previously told Yahoo Finance.

That structure hasn’t aged well with the advent of music streaming and artists’ ability to release music on their own time and terms, without the need for a label’s muscle.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: (L-R) Founder of Big Machine Records Scott Borchetta, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and CBE Chairman & CEO UMG Lucian Grainge attend Universal Music Group 2016 Grammy After Party presented by American Airlines and Citi at The Theatre at Ace Hotel Downtown LA on February 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for Universal Music Group)

“Scott Borchetta told my team that they’ll allow me to use my music only if I do these things: If I agree to not re-record copycat versions of my songs next year (which is something I’m both legally allowed to do and looking forward to) and also told my team that I need to stop talking about him and Scooter Braun,” Swift wrote in her Tumblr post.

Swift’s publicist tweeted a statement that included excerpts from the notice sent by Big Machine. “Please be advised that BMLG will not agree to issue licenses for existing recordings or waivers of its re-recording restrictions in connection to these two projects: The Netflix documentary and The Alibaba ‘Double Eleven’ event,” the label reportedly warned Swift’s team.

The tweet also included context for the American Music Awards’ performance: “Scott Borchetta, CEO and founder of Big Machine Label Group, flatly denied the request for both American Music Awards and Netflix.” Swift’s team, in the statement, also claims that Big Machine owes the artist $7.9 million in unpaid royalties.

In 2018, Swift’s label agreement with Big Machine was set to expire, and the singer told label president Borchetta she would be exploring other companies. Swift ultimately settled on Universal Music Group’s Republic Records (VIVHY). 

At time of publication, Braun, the Carlyle Group, and Dick Clark Productions, which produces the American Music Awards, have not responded to requests for comment.

Katie is an associate editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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