If ever there were an artist who seems to straddle the line of aggressive intellectual property enforcement, that artist must surely be Taylor Swift. While Swift has herself been subject to silly copyright lawsuits, she has also been quite aggressive and threatening on matters of intellectual property and defamation when it comes to attacking journalists and even her own fans over trademark rights. So, Taylor Swift is, among other things, both the perpetrator and the victim of expansive permission culture.
You would think someone this steeped in these concerns would be quite cautious about stepping on the rights of others. And, yet, it appears that some of the iconography for Swift’s forthcoming album and merchandise was fairly callous about those rights for others.
Amira Rasool, founder of the online retailer The Folklore, accused the pop star last week of selling merchandise that ripped off the logo of her company, which sells apparel, accessories and other products by designers in Africa and the diaspora.
Rasool shared photos on Twitter and Instagram that showed cardigans and sweatshirts with the words “The Folklore Album” for sale on Swift’s website.
This morning, it came to my attention that musician #TaylorSwift is selling merchandise to go along with her new album ‘Folklore’. She is currently selling merchandise with the words “The Folklore” printed on them. Based on the similarities of the design, I believe the designer of the merch ripped off my company’s logo. I am sharing my story to bring light to the trend of large companies/celebrities copying the work of small minority-owned business owners. I am not going to let this blatant theft go unchecked. Please tag @diet_prada and @thefashionlaw under the post and share this on Twitter and IGz #TheRealFolklore #TheFolklore Original logo designed by @cainecasket
Are those logos confusingly similar? Given the shared brand name… yeah, probably! While not exactly the same, particularly given the font and style choices, the overall placement of the words in each logo is similar enough that I can see a valid trademark issue here.
Now, let’s be super clear about a couple of things. First, Swift has changed the logo after Rasool’s complaint. She also reached out to Rasool and commended her organization and appears to have made a contribution to it as well. Rasool herself has responded appreciatively and has said the matter is closed. A monster Taylor Swift is not.
But that isn’t really the point. In many instances, this is how trademark infringement issues happen. I have seen nothing to suggest that Swift’s team knew of Rasool’s organization and blatantly ripped off her logo. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But it’s not tough to picture how this could have happened relatively innocently. And that immediately brings to mind the following question: would Swift have offered the same grace to the targets of her own enforcement as did Rasool? Given how aggressive she’s been in trying to trademark all the things and then going after her own fans as a result, it seems doubtful.
But maybe this is the learning opportunity she needs. I won’t hold my breath.