If you’re a Taylor Swift fan or follow music industry news, you probably know that for the past two years, the pop star has been rereleasing her old songs, each time adding “Taylor’s Version” to the titles.

Artists releasing old music with new arrangements is nothing new. However, Swift’s strategy is not a savvy marketing move that gets her out of writing new songs. It’s an empowering story of artistic integrity—and a cautionary tale for creatives about intellectual property.

‘Is It Over Now?’

At the age of fifteen, Swift signed a contract with Big Machine Records. It granted the company ownership of master recordings for Swift’s first six albums (which did not yet exist). A master recording is the officially released version of a song, the one listeners stream on such platforms as Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music. “Master rights” include the legal right to license the recordings to third parties such as the creators of TV shows, films, commercials, or artists who want to cover or sample the work—and the right to collect the proceeds.

When Swift’s contract with Big Machine expired in 2018, the company still owned the masters, whereas Swift retained what are called the “publishing rights” to the songs, which she wrote. Publishing rights are legally recognized rights to a musical composition, structure, and lyrics. They are generally owned by the original writer or composer of the song.

Later that same year, Swift signed a new record deal with Republic Records that enabled her to retain both the master and publishing rights for the material released under that deal. Nonetheless, Big Machine still owned the masters of her first six albums. According to Swift, she tried to purchase the master rights from Big Machine, but the company offered unfavorable terms.

For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. 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 [Big Machine’s president] would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future.1

‘Bad Blood’ . . .


1. Taylor Swift, Tumblr, June 30, 2019. Archived from the original on February 12, 2021. Retrieved February 13, 2021. www.taylorswift.tumblr.com/post/185958366550/for-years-i-asked-pleaded-for-a-chance-to-own-my.

2. Swift, Tumblr, June 30, 2019.

3. Swift, Tumblr, June 30, 2019.

4. Taylor Swift, Twitter, November 15, 2019, www.twitter.com/taylorswift13/status/1195123215657508867.

5. Jacklyn Krol, Twitter, November 15, 2019.

6. Douglas Karr, Twitter, November 15, 2019.

7. Bill Honaker, “Taylor Swift Teaches Copyright Law,” IP Guy, April 17, 2023, www.ipguy.com/taylor-swift-teaches-copyright-law.

8. Jason Lipshutz, “7 Key Stats Proving That Taylor Swift’s First Two ‘Taylor’s Version’ Re-Recordings Have Been Dominant,” Billboard, June 7, 2023, www.billboard.com/lists/taylor-swift-taylors-version-stats-chart-numbers/the-equivalent-album-units-gap.

9. Jordan Darville, “Report: Taylor Swift’s Re-recorded Albums are Outstreaming the Originals,” The Fader, July 7, 2023, www.thefader.com/2023/07/07/report-taylor-swift-re-recorded-albums-outstreaming-taylors-version-speak-now.

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