Taylor Swift’s extremely successful marketing campaign for her record-breaking album 1989 was largely built off the singer’s intimate connections with her fans. She went to their houses, baked them cookies, followed them on Tumblr, and invited them to exclusive listening sessions. But recent action from Swift and her legal team paints a far less BFF image of the pop star. Fans with Swift-related items on Etsy have been hit with alleged trademark violations and ordered to remove their items from stores.
Buzzfeed reports that of the 15 Swift-related Etsy items on a list they published back in November, only three are still for sale online. They contacted an Etsy seller who asked to remain anonymous, but spoke about the legal action brought against her:
We originally made the item for fun, we love Taylor and we had friends that love Taylor. We never intended for it to be a profit making item. The cost of the item covered shipping costs, and production costs with very little left over. When we got the e-mail that the trademark infringement occurred, we were pretty shocked because while our item was popular we didn’t feel as if it had become popular enough to cause harm to Taylor Swift’s empire. We were shocked. And we were scared. We didn’t even make enough money for a lawyer and this had seemed like such a harmless and fun idea.
The success of 1989 was built on fans feeling like they were part of Swift’s life and story. Now that the album launch campaign has wound down, the anonymous seller argues that the lawsuit counters that in a major way.
Fans like to see themselves as part of the artist’s story, however small. They want to contribute and be creative and have fun. These free, loving, creative minds are being stopped by the very artists who have inspired them. Obviously an artist has a right to their art and people should respect that. But at the same time most people, like us, are trying to be respectful and contribute to the excitement that the artist brings into our lives. When that is taken away, it leaves us with a bitter taste in our mouths. It feels as though we don’t matter, that our ideas and thoughts and creations never belonged to us in the first place. No matter how hard we worked. And for other fans who make art, I’m afraid that this is going to be the future.
Etsy issued a statement to Buzzfeed about the situation:
Because of privacy and legal concerns, we can’t verify specific information about who contacts us. However, I can share more information about our copyright and intellectual property policy:
All this comes on the heels of Swift’s trademark of the phrase “this sick beat,” among others. It isn’t a brand new situation (Buzzfeed says Swift’s lawyers issued takedown notices to Etsy sellers as early as 2013) but it has ramped up in recent months.
Swift isn’t the only one pushing back against fan-made merchandise. Beyoncé recently launched a similar suit against fans who were running with the “Feyoncé” meme.
There’s a difference between Drake threatening to sue a major corporation like Walmart for their “YOLO” t-shirts, and major pop stars threatening fans with legal action over homemade crafts. As the anonymous Etsy seller mentioned, most of them probably aren’t making much money anyway, and are just doing it for the fun of it.