A Taylor Swift Teaching Moment: What is a Trademark

In the past few years I’ve become a fan of Taylor Swift. Perhaps not of her music, but the way she handles her career and her life.  Standing up to Spotify and the paltry royalty rates it pays was just the latest example.

So yesterday I noticed new and mainstream media making a fuss about recent trademark applications Taylor Swift and her team have filed on logos she uses to promote and market her music career.  The reports were full of misconceptions and misstatements about trademark law it was painful to me.  Especially since trademark is a unique type of law that, in the United States, is primarily a consumer protection law.  Significantly, trademark is not the same thing as copyright (e.g. Vulture article)!

What is a trademark anyway?

A trademark is a word, phrase or design, that indicates to a consumer the source of goods or services.  You see trademarks all day, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.  Think of them as shorthand for brands:

Cheerios is shorthand for cereal from General Mills

Crest is shorthand for tooth paste from General Mills

T.S. is shorthand for music and merchandise from Taylor Swift

The primary protection afforded trademarks is to prevent third parties from using the same or similar marks in a manner that would confuse consumers as to the source of the goods or services to which they were related. The same word can be used by different people on different products as long as there is not a likelihood the consumers can be confused. Thus different companies use Delta as mark for for transportation, faucets, and dental services.

So what does this have to do with Taylor Swift?

Yesterday, Vox reported that Taylor Swift had filed applications for the registration of a number of marks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The marks include THIS SICK BEAT and PARTY LIKE IT’S 1989. The applications are for uses on everything from live entertainment to stationary to aprons.

Vox correctly points out that the registrations will allow Taylor Swift’s team to keep third parties from selling unofficial merchandise. Recent studies indicate that musicians at all levels rely on revenue from everything but the sale of recorded music. Therefore being able to sell t-shirts to fans as well as candles and the like is important even for superstars like Taylor Swift.

I for one love the idea of SWIFTSTAKES from Taylor Swift.  She is incredibly generous with her fans, and I know they will love them too.  I’m grateful she’s such a great role model for my nieces and I can use this story to teach them about trademarks!

Please visit Prager Law to learn how we help clients on trademark matters as well as provide other strategic legal services.

About Nancy Prager

Nancy Prager is an attorney based in Washington, D.C. She represents a wide range of clients on matters from intellectual property to estate planning. Before starting her own practice, she practiced with firms in Memphis and Atlanta, as well as providing business development services to technology companies. She launched her practice to offer strategic legal services to clients at an affordable rate. Additionally, Nancy is a sought after speaker and writer on issues related to the convergence of intellectual property, technology and media. Nancy was asked to write a series of commentaries for News.com on the emerging legal issues related to the transmission of content on the internet. She has spoken to organizations and conferences around the country on issues related to the convergence of technology, content and intellectual property, as well as strategic legal issues for companies, individuals and artists. Journalists often rely on Nancy as a resource for emerging legal issues. Nancy has a strong commitment to social justice. She has founded, or co-founded, a number of organizations and programs that provide tangible services to their constituencies. For example, while a student in law school she developed the Domestic Violence Advocacy Center that provides legal services to victims of domestic violence. Additionally, she has been involved with a number of organizations that provide services to children and their families, including serving on the boards of the Harwood Center and Porter Leath Children’s Services. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is a member of the District of Columbia Bar, the State Bar of Georgia and the State Bar of Tennessee. She has been a member of a variety of legal organizations including the Copyright Society of the USA and the American Bar Association.
This entry was posted in Intellectual Property, Taylor Swift, Trademark and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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