Last Wednesday, we learned how far the Taylor Swift marketing machine will go to protect her assets. Vox revealed that, shortly before the release of 1989, Swift submitted trademark requests for five common English phrases which appear as lyrics on her album, including "Nice to Meet You, Where You Been?"™, "Could Show You Incredible Things"™ and "This Sick Beat"™. These may be the first trademarked lyrics in the entire English canon.
But Ben Norton from the prog-metal band Peculate isn't too keen on the idea. He's released a metal "protest song" appropriately titled "This Sick Beat™." It's made up entirely of those lyrics screamed again and again over a savage barrage of drums and guitars. And it would, theoretically, directly violate the trademark's policy, which lists the lyrics' use in a "public appearance" or a "recording" among the trademarked properties. It's a defiant stand for small artists' rights:
With the song, Norton seeks to critique our culture's restriction of creative freedom. "Trademarks are a direct attack on one of the most fundamental and inalienable rights of all: our freedom of speech," he wrote to Billboard. "If you give the bourgeoisie an inch, they will take a mile... and everything else you have in the process. They have already privatized land, water and words. After language, they will next try to privatize air. But although the rich can try, they will never truly own the words we use and the language we speak."
It's a little intense, but he's got a point. Swift's team likely trademarked the phrases they did to protect bootleggers from selling merchandise with those lines on it. But the extent to which she did so is unreasonable. If trademarking lyrics becomes a trend with all other pop artists carving out their own English phrases, we may create a musical environment that is more legal than creative. It could also disadvantage smaller artists who don't have the legal clout of a bigger name.
Norton points to this inequality in a critique of the music industry on his band's website. "[A]s long as music is considered an 'industry,' it's no longer art," he writes. "[I]t's a product. Let's return music (and all the arts) back to its proper place: as a form of human expression, communication and creativity, not commerce."
Perculate's music is not at all accessible to most listeners, but hopefully this track will point out how ridiculous it is that big-name artists could theoretically carve up the English language for their own gains. This trademarking practice cannot become a trend. And the only way to fight back is to be thoughtful and continue to resist the corporatization of music.