In the latest salvo in a rapidly evolving media battle that has evolved over the past 15 hours, Taylor Swift refuted Big Machine Records’ claim that the company did not try to block her from using material from her early albums, which are owned by the label, in forthcoming television specials.
Swift had leveled those claims against the company Thursday night, stating she was being denied the use of her Big Machine era songs in the forthcoming American Music Awards and a Netflix documentary; Big Machine denied those claims in a general but not specific sense in a statement early Friday.
Big Machine also claimed that Swift owes the company “millions of dollars and multiple assets,” which the singer refuted by claiming Big Machine owes her nearly $8 million in unpaid royalties.
In the latest statement, a rep for Swift wrote:
“The truth is, on October 28, 2019 at 5:17 p.m. the Vice President, Rights Management and Business Affairs from Big Machine Label Group sent Taylor Swift’s team the following:
“‘Please be advised that BMLG will not agree to issue licenses for existing recordings or waivers of its re-recording restrictions in connection with these two projects:
The Netflix documentary and
The Alibaba ‘Double Eleven’ event’ [an event in China at which Swift performed last week].
“To avoid an argument over rights, Taylor performed three songs off her new album ‘Lover’ at the Double Eleven event as it was clear that Big Machine Label Group felt any televised performance of catalog songs violated her agreement. In addition, yesterday Scott Borchetta, CEO and founder of Big Machine Label Group, flatly denied the request for both American Music Awards and Netflix. Please notice in Big Machine’s statement, they never actually deny either claim Taylor said last night in her post.
“Lastly, Big Machine is trying to deflect and make this about money by saying she owes them but, an independent, professional auditor has determined that Big Machine owes Taylor $7.9 million dollars of unpaid royalties over several years.”
Variety has seen a document that appears to support her claims about Big Machine denying song use, although its authenticity could not immediately be independently verified.
Swift says in her posts that the Big Machine team told her she would be allowed the use of her old songs only if she agreed not to re-record them in the future — a non-starter for her, she says — and if she affirmed she would not speak negatively of the company going forward.
Normally, performing older material live when the master recordings are held by someone else shouldn’t require permission, except Swift claims that Borchetta and Braun are contending that a performance of them on the AMAs constitutes “re-recording them before I’m allowed to next year.” She also said “Scott and Scooter have declined the use of my older music or performance footage for [the Netflix documentary].” Her Big Machine contract states that she may not re-record material from her period with the label until November of next year.
Parsing Big Machine’s statement, those specific claims are actually not completely denied: They say “At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special,” but do not address permission to use Big Machine-era songs in those shows; they also say they “have continued to honor all of her requests to license her catalog to third parties,” but do not address the two proposed uses in question. (A rep for Braun and Big Machine did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for further clarification.) They then move on to bigger issues that address the troubled relations between Swift and the label, which broke into the open at the time the Braun-led purchase of the company for a reported $300 million was announced on June 30.
On that day, Swift posted an impassioned social media post in which she described feeling “sad and grossed out” by the deal, which includes the rights to her entire catalog up through 2017’s “Reputation.” She called the agreement “my worst case scenario,” said she has always mistrusted him, and accused him of “bullying” her, referencing a social media post in which Bieber, Braun and Kanye West — with whom Swift was bitterly and publicly sparring at the time — were photographed together captioned “Taylor Swift what up.” Bieber has apologized for the post.
“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work,” the post begins. “Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past.”
Swift claims to have been blindsided by the deal, which seems questionable since her father was a Big Machine shareholder and rumors within the industry were almost unavoidable in the weeks before it happened, but it’s possible the family turned a willfully blind eye.
The singer has said she will re-record and release her earlier material when she is contractually permitted to do so next year — a brazen play to devalue her early catalog, which is now owned by Braun’s investment company — although whether or not that actually happens (or if a re-recording would actually spur sales of the originals) remains to be seen.
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