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Taylor Swift: Apple of music world's eye or a hypocrite?

In speaking out over artists’ rights, singer has opened herself to criticism

Taylor Swift performs in Cologne, Germany, earlier this month. Photograph Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images for TAS

This Monday, the world’s most influential artist arrives in Dublin to play two sold-out shows at the 3 Arena.

If the events of the past week have proven anything, it is that winsome pop princess Taylor Swift has become the queen of the music industry.

Last weekend, in a post on Tumblr, Swift excoriated Apple for not paying artists during the three-month free trial period of its forthcoming streaming music service.

“This is not about me,” she wrote. “This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success . . . Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing.”

The logic was pretty unassailable – just because Apple and the big music labels were happy to forgo money to attract users to the new service, why should artists be denied royalties for the streams?

The shaming tactic worked perfectly – the U-turn from Apple was almost immediate, with chief dealmaker Eddy Cue confirming that Apple would indeed be paying artists during the free trial period (albeit a mere $0.002 per stream.)

With her deceptively frothy pop, Disney-princess features and chart-conquering series of albums, the 25-year-old might appear an unlikely champion of indie artists across the world – this appeared to be a David and Goliath story, without a plausible David.

Photographer complaint

But then one turned up in the form of British freelance photographer Jason Sheldon, who pointed out that the contract Swift imposes on photographers at her shows “appears to be a complete rights grab, and demands that you are granted free and unlimited use of our work, worldwide, in perpetuity”.

 

“Photographers don’t ask for your music for free,” Sheldon wrote in a post that went immediately viral. “Please don’t ask us to provide you with your marketing material for free.”

As quickly as Swift had forced Apple to backtrack, she had gone from hero to hypocrite. Of course, artists of Swift’s status routinely make these demands as they seek to control their brand and profit from their image, but in taking Apple to task, she had specifically invoked the importance of artists getting paid for their work. The inconsistency was problematic, to say the least.

The entire episode highlights the most disturbing aspect of the music industry – much of the business is built on exploitation of people’s creative endeavour, and that exploitation runs all the way down.

It has been that way since the label model emerged in the 1960s, with artists “repaying” labels for their services, all while the labels own the publishing rights of the artists’ music.

Swift has carved enough independence to avoid that sort of fleecing, but correcting that culture of exploitation is going to take more than a few Tumblr posts and tweets.