SNL jokes about “Swiftamine” aside, I will freely admit that I have always been a Taylor Swift fan. Her music, even the fun poppy beats she is releasing now, remind me of being with my younger sister in the car singing along as loud as we could. I refuse to comment on our ability to stay on pitch.
And then of my mother shaking her head while “Fifteen” was on the radio and warning my brother to never date her; then glancing at us girls and telling us not to be friends with her. “She’ll write a song and tell the whole world your secrets.”
Still, I feel no shame in being a T-Swift fan.
Just like everything Taylor does, the release of her new album 1989 has brought a flurry of media attentionlast week. The first week resulted in more album sales than any record since “The Eminem Show” in 2002. Taylor sold over 1.3 million records, just under the all-time female artist record of 1.319 million sales of “Oops!…I Did It Again” by Britney Spears. This would be a real accomplishment if her media team had not rolled out a Fort Knox type of security on the album. YouTube and Spotify, are 1989-less except for her officially released music video for “Shake it Off.” In a recent interview Taylor proclaimed that art, including music, is rare and has value. Obviously, she meant monetary value as the only artist to go platinum in 2014 so far.
The internet has changed things. No question. Before file-sharing and online services such as Spotify, one friend would buy the album then you would all go to that friend’s house to listen to it (and consequently dance in their living room in a way only eleven year olds can). When Napster and Limewire took hold during my middle school years the mentality of consumers, especially my generation, shifted. Personally, I listen to music on Youtube before making any purchases on I-Tunes – even from my favorite artists. $1.29 for a song? As a student, I want to make sure that it will be a good song for my walk to school or running with the dog, and not something I would hit “next” on my I-POD as it starts. Additionally, our expectations have changed. New artists use social media to promote themselves and their music. They use the internet to generate a following before being signed to a label. Generally, as I already mentioned, we are unwilling to purchase music from an unknown artist.
But if we have a type of free-music culture, does it harm artists who produce copyrighted works?
In my Business Associations class, our professor reminds us that everything (at least in business law) can be boiled down to money. Copyrights and other intellectual property rights are not an exception. IP law exists to protect the rights of creators to monetarily incentivize innovation. But, is Taylor Swift – who, according to Forbes, earned approximately $64 million between January and June 2014 before her hit single “Shake It Off” – really harmed by receiving a smaller royalty from Spotify than the full priced digital download? The answer is yes. You may make a face while you say yes, but the answer is yes. While I doubt her approach would work for someone who is not already internationally renowned, she has legal rights over her creation. It just seems less fun when you put a dollar amount on it.