12 October 2021Trademarks

Democrats’ removal of 'Swifties' merch overshadows Virginia election

Seemingly unlicensed Taylor Swift merchandise and its prompt removal from the market is at the centre of one of the more surprising stories to come out of the build-up to the Virginia gubernatorial election in the US.

Singer-songwriter Swift has historically been vocal about the lack of control that she has had over her own master recordings and content, which came to a head when she accused Big Machine Label Group of prohibiting her use of her own material at the American Music Awards in 2019.

Also in 2019, Big Machine was acquired by talent manager Scooter Braun and his company Ithaca Holdings. The acquisition was funded by private equity firms, one of which was The Carlyle Group.

As reported by The Verge earlier this year, Swift had specifically called on The Carlyle Group to intervene in the deal, which saw her master recordings being traded between companies.

The then-co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, Glenn Youngkin, is the Republican nominee in the upcoming gubernatorial election in Virginia, and Democratic hopeful Terry McAuliffe has sought to use his role in the controversial deal to the advantage of the Democrats in the race for governor.

On October 6, the Democratic Party of Virginia tweeted: “Glenn has made clear that he will rip anyone off in order to make a profit. If he’ll do this to Taylor Swift—he’ll do it to Virginians.”

Also this month, Democratic nominee McAuliffe launched a series of ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Google, highlighting the role that his competitor Youngkin played in the 2019 acquisition of Swift’s masters.

Youngkin retired from his role as co-CEO of The Carlyle Group in 2020, before launching his bid for governor of Virginia.

It appears that the Democratic Party of Virginia may have gone a step too far when they started selling a line of “Swifties Against Youngkin” merchandise, including mugs, hoodies, and buttons. The goods featured the phrase in bright pink, according to Washingtonian.

Yesterday, October 10, the Democratic Party of Virginia tweeted “tis the damn season to get your Swifties against Youngkin merchandise” alongside a link to its online store. However, the merchandise was promptly removed from the platform, as was the tweet about the product line.

Currently, no official reason for the takedown has been given by either the Democratic Party of Virginia or by Swift’s representatives. But Rolling Stone has speculated that the products may have been pulled to prevent a trademark spat over “Swifties”, a word used to describe the singer-songwriter’s fans.

Although she has been a public critic of The Carlyle Group’s acquisition of Big Machine and a public supporter of the Democratic Party (Swift’s endorsement of Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election was reported by Forbes), the singer-songwriter is also known to be a keen protector of her IP.

And, Swift’s rights management company does own the word mark ‘Swifties’ in a number of classes, including international class 25 for clothing and international class 35 for retail store services and consumer goods.

Unless and until an official statement is made, it is impossible to know why the Democratic Party of Virginia’s “Swifties Against Youngkin” range was pulled. But it’s fair to say that the story has distracted some people from the politics of the upcoming election for governor in Virginia—at least for a couple of days.

The Virginia gubernatorial election is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, November 2.

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