Some record companies in the US are seeking to extend re-record restrictions in record contracts, according to lawyers who have spoken to Billboard.
The move is seen by many as a response to Taylor Swift's high profile project releasing new versions of old albums. That project was motivated by the sale of her old label Big Machine to Scooter Braun's company, a sale she called her “worst case scenario”. The re-records went ahead even after Braun sold on the rights in Swift's first six albums to private equity firm Shamrock Holdings.
Swift’s re-records have been doing very well indeed, enjoying much hype and media coverage, and generating huge numbers of streams. Tracks on Taylor’s Version of ‘1989’ - released on 27 Oct - have already been streamed 382,106,157 times on Spotify alone. By comparison, the top 200 tracks on Spotify racked up 1,649,397,641 streams in that time, so she had 23.2% of the streams in the top 200 tracks globally.
Record contracts usually have some restrictions around re-records barring artists from recording new versions of old tracks for a number of years after they are out of any one deal with a label. This aims to avoid the negative impact on the value of the recordings that the label owns or controls that would likely occur if there were new versions in circulation.
Traditionally very few artists have actually recorded new versions of old songs, even once the re-record restrictions no longer apply, for various creative, commercial and logistical reasons. Though, with digital, the costs associated with releasing re-records are much lower, especially if an artist is connected to a big audience on social media, reducing marketing expense.
That fact - coupled with the success of Swift's re-releases - has possibly motivated both major and indie labels to seek longer re-record restrictions in order to discourage artists from considering Swift-style re-record projects. Billboard reports that some record labels are now "demanding artists wait an unprecedented ten, fifteen or even 30 years to re-record releases".
Lawyer Josh Karp tells the trade title: “The first time I saw it, I tried to get rid of it entirely. I was just like, ‘What is this? This is strange. Why would we agree to further restrictions than we’ve agreed to in the past with the same label?'”
Another attorney, Gandhar Savur, states: “I recently did a deal with a very big indie that had a 30 year re-record restriction in it. Which obviously is much longer than I’m used to seeing. I think the majors are also trying to expand their re-record restrictions but in a more measured way - they are generally not yet able to get away with making such extreme changes".
Responding to Billboard's report, Universal Music - which has been working with Swift on the release of her re-records - said that it "does not comment on legal agreements".
However, it did point to a Wall Street Journal article that said changes to the major's template contracts, including around re-record restrictions, had gone into effect before Swift's big re-release project began.