Why Taylor Swift's Etsy Crackdown Feels So Wrong

Photo: Matt Baron/BEImages.
Last month, Taylor Swift decided to trademark a slew of somewhat inane phrases that appear in a few of her songs from her latest album, 1989. These included "This Sick Beat," "Cause We Never Go Out of Style," and "Party Like It's 1989." The last one might be the most offensive because it is clearly a rip-off of Prince's hit lyrics from "1999," and he is a man who would probably hunt you down at karaoke and cry copyright infringement if you even mutter the first few bars of "Little Red Corvette."

Recently, the ramifications of the trademarks were revealed when Swift cracked down on Etsy vendors (read: the pop star's main demographic) who sell merchandise with her image and lyrics on it. BuzzFeed reported that several items were taken offline after the sellers were sent cease and desist letters.

Swift isn't the only megastar going after sellers who are clearly making money off her likeness and music. Last month, Beyoncé threatened to take legal action against Etsy, apparently after expressing disdain for a mug labeled "Feyoncé," a reference to "Single Ladies," but there's no confirmation she's taking any serious legal action against sellers who make Beyoncé merchandise. It's not like all of us can afford those $65 "SURFBOARD" sweatshirts. Some people have to do what they gotta do (make fakes!). In the past, Drake called out Macy's and Walgreens over YOLO merchandise, but it's unclear if he even had a trademark for the phrase in the first place.
Photo: via Beyoncé.

"There's a difference between Drake threatening to sue a major corporation like Walmart for their 'YOLO' T-shirts, and major pop stars threatening fans with legal action over homemade crafts," wrote Caitlin White at Stereogum, and she's is absolutely right. When you threaten Etsy, you aren't threatening a corporation, you're threatening crafty young women and men. Most likely, these crafters are fans and no doubt they are close in age to Swift. It's doubtful they are making a huge profit off of their under $20 merchandise. But, what makes this so interesting is how the copyright debacle goes against a very specific image Swift has cultivated, one of a normal young woman who is exactly like one of her fans.

Swift has made a concerted effort to show the world just how normal she is. She loves her cats and blogs often on Tumblr. She throws listening parties at her home where she invites huge groups of her fans (who are mostly teenagers) to hang out, take a ton of pictures, and dance to 1989. She crafts in-depth and touching Instagram comments about heartbreak and bullying on the photos her followers post. She is constantly baking cookies and knitting or needlepointing gifts. You could bet money that Swift has browsed Etsy stores many a night in search of polka-dotted hair bows and Mariska Hargitay fan art. But, trademarking pretty ordinary phrases that have arguably already been in the cultural zeitgeist, and then cracking down on Etsy, of all places, a hub of feel-good, handmade, barely profitable commerce, contradicts her image as the people's pop star.
Photo: Courtesy of Quinn Dreasler.

"She kind of deflated my little T-Swift love balloon that I had — I love to see women succeed and give no fucks," Quinn Dreasler wrote in an email. Dreasler is an Etsy seller who had a $12 cross-stitch of a "Shake It Off" lyric pulled from her site. "Her carefree branding is important representation — but the crackdown on Etsy sellers made it too easy to see how the sausage was made."

No matter how hard she tries to portray herself as down-to-earth, Swift is a billionaire pop star. She has come a long way from her signature, potentially fake, award-winning surprise face. Now Swift makes impassioned arguments for pulling her music off of Spotify and writes op-eds on her success in The Wall Street Journal. "I believe couples can stay in love for decades if they just continue to surprise each other," Swift wrote in her WSJ op-ed about the future of music. "So why can't this love affair exist between an artist and their fans?" Is Swift pulling merchandise off Etsy her idea of showing love for her fans?

For an artist so indebted to her fanbase, who has stressed how important it is for an artist to speak directly to and understand their fans, her legal action against something as minuscule as 1989-themed mugs and trinkets is disappointing to many. 

"I think that people should be able to pay homage to media that inspires them," Dreasler said. "We don't copy, and we don't co-opt, but we work inside a world where we like to be inspired and feel good about what [we] consume. Now I feel less good about consuming her media because she's bad at sharing it."

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