Taylor Swift’s Music Drama Explained: Can Big Machine Really Block Her From Performing Her Old Hits?


Quite the head-scratcher. Taylor Swift claimed earlier this week that her previous label, Big Machine Records, banned her from performing her old songs, but the situation is more complicated than she explained.

“Taylor can 100 percent perform all of her catalog, past and present, at the AMAs,” a source tells Us Weekly. “Big Machine has no issue with her performance going out on live broadcast because it recognizes it doesn’t have the right to block her. Labels can’t block any artists from performing any songs live.”

In fact, Swift, 29, has already done so, singing “Shake It Off” — which is part of her catalog with Big Machine — during an August appearance on Good Morning America.

Taylor Swift TIME 100 Gala Red Carpet
Taylor Swift attends the TIME 100 Gala on April 23, 2019 in New York City. Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix/Shutterstock

However, music industry lawyer Erin M. Jacobson notes the move is meant to deter the Grammy winner from rerecording her old hits, which she has been vocal about doing. “These new recordings will compete with the uses of the original recordings. This competition will make it harder for Scooter Braun and his affiliates to make back the financial investment to purchase these masters,” Jacobson tells Us exclusively. “Therefore, the Big Machine side is trying to use whatever leverage they can manage now to stop Taylor from making any new competing recordings in the future.”

The attorney agrees that Big Machine “cannot prevent Taylor from performing any song live” because the “rights to the compositions are controlled by Taylor’s music publisher.” However, the record label “is arguing that Taylor’s performance of these songs will create new recordings because it is on a broadcast that will be recorded for future viewing” and Swift is barred from remaking the tracks until 2020. She adds: “While Big Machine is not directly blocking her performance, they are putting a roadblock in her way as far as performing these particular songs.”

Taylor Swift Performing
Taylor Swift performs during the MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. Christopher Polk/Variety/Shutterstock

Jacobson says the company “can deny the use of the recordings they own in the [Netflix] documentary,” but it “does not have control over how and when the compositions are used.”

Swift made waves on Thursday, November 14, when she claimed Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun, who purchased her masters in June, prohibited her from performing a medley of her songs at the 2019 American Music Awards. She also alleged that the men refused to let her include her old music in a Netflix documentary about her life. “I just want to be able to perform MY OWN music,” she wrote via her Instagram Story.

Big Machine Label Group fired back in a statement to Us on Friday, November 15. “At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special,” the company said. “In fact, we do not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere.”

Swift’s spokeswoman responded to the label, alleging that Borchetta, 57, “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.”

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