Can Taylor Swift really re-record her entire music catalogue?

Taylor Swift, like many artists, does not own the master recordings to her older albums.
Taylor Swift, like many artists, does not own the master recordings to her older albums.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (WP) - Some time in the new year, Taylor Swift will belt out: "She wears short skirts / I wear T-shirts / She's cheer captain / And I'm on the bleachers."

She will not be doing this in front of thousands of fans, though. Instead, she will be in a studio, re-recording a song she did 11 years ago for her second album.

Swift, like many artists, does not own the master recordings to her older albums.

Now, in a bold and unusual move, she said she will re-record at least five of the six albums she did under Big Machine Records, her former label, to create a second set of masters that she will have control over.

Swift's announcement came after Mr Scooter Braun, a music mogul she claims has bullied and manipulated her, purchased Big Machine - and her masters along with it.

When a teenage Swift originally signed with Big Machine, which released her first six records, she signed away the copyright to her master recordings.

"It's nothing out of the ordinary," said Ms Susan Hilderley, music lawyer and instructor at UCLA School of Law, calling it the "kind of terms you would expect for somebody who was an unknown artist when she signed".

Regardless, Swift believes artists should retain the full rights to their recordings - though she will have to wait a spell. Experts said most standard music contracts have a clause disallowing artists from re-recording their own songs for a set period of time.

According to Swift, that period will end next fall for her first five albums.

There are two different copyrights in play here: that of the song composition (the musical arrangement and lyrics), and that of the recording itself.

And "the copyright for the song is compensated completely separately from the compensation for the song recording", said Mr David Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers Association.

And "because Taylor writes her own songs, she can do this without much trouble. If there was someone else writing her songs, you'd have to go through a different process".

If Swift re-records these songs, they will function as "covers" of her own music, at which point either she or her new label will own those new recordings.

The original masters would not disappear just because she records new versions, so there would essentially be two sets of songs. That could have a few different consequences.

On one hand, Swift's team should be able to exert some control over her original songs.

She could effectively control which version of the song is licensed, the old or the new.

But it could devalue each song. If, for example, Toyota wants to use Shake It Off in a commercial and there are two versions, it might choose the cheaper version.