It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.
-Warren Buffett

There is a new movement afoot. In fact, it is a “brand” new movement, if you will. This is the innovative and strategic use of federal trademark law to protect artists’ “brands.”

Here’s what I mean. Taylor Swift has recently applied for trademark registration of her popular song lyrics from her latest album, “1989.” Examples are “this sick beat” and “Nice to meet you. Where you been?” (An interesting corollary from the sporting world is Seattle Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch who has applied to register his Super Bowl XLIV maxim “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”).

Admittedly Swift is not the first celebrity to use trademark registration to protect a brand (predecessor applicants include Britney Spears and Beyoncé). In fact, this is not even Swift’s first rodeo; she owns the registrations for five other marks, including her own name which were all undertaken to protect everything from entertainment services to footwear, fragrances, backpacks, drum sticks, as well as number of other items. (Staying with Lynch for a moment he similarly owns the registrations for two other marks including his nickname “Beast Mode,” to protect clothing, watches and sunglasses). However, being the first in line is not important here; instead, it is the ever increasingly difficult task of protecting one’s celebrity image that is at stake.

The approach taken by Swift and Lynch makes an argument that this is the new way for celebrities to protect their names, lyrics or popular statements in today’s social media landscape. So far, federal trademark law appears to be a big fan of this approach and reaction has been indeed been favorable.

Generally speaking, trademark law protects any word, phrase, logo or even just a symbol without words that is used by someone to distinguish his goods or services from those of others. However, simply making a statement or writing a song does not give rise to a protectable trademark. Nevertheless, when Swift and Lynch seek to use their words or lyrics to sell goods (like clothing) or services (like entertainment) across state lines, this gives rise to a protectable trademark.

Also remember that trademarks do not need to be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to provide protection although registration is certainly beneficial and affords a trademark owner certain rights not otherwise available. Therefore, Swift’s and Lynch’s registration affords them protection even though without registration they can still protect their goods and/or services through federal and state unfair competition laws.

We all seem to love that new car smell so keeping things “brand” new is a formidable goal indeed. Keep rockin’ Taylor.







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