Taylor Swift is cracking down on fans using craft website Etsy to sell products using her trademarks, reports BuzzFeed.
The online marketplace allows anyone to sell their handcrafted goods — a kind of boutique eBay. It’s popular with fan communities like Swift’s, and there are numerous t-shirts, pictures, candles and other items on the site emblazoned with the singer’s image and lyrics.
But Swift has had enough, and is issuing cease-and-desist letters to many sellers on the site.
It’s important to note that Etsy doesn’t make these items themselves. Anyone can sell their products on the site without prior approval from the company, or even their knowledge. But the company does have a duty to respond to objections and potential legal issues if they don’t want to be held responsible for potentially illegal content sold on its site. (It’s the same reason YouTube deletes copyrighted material from its site.)
At this point, there’s no indication that Swift is threatening to take legal action against Etsy itself.
One seller told BuzzFeed that fans “see themselves as part of the artist’s story, however small. They want to contribute and be creative and have fun.” While they recognise the artist’s intellectual property rights, they say that the action “leaves us with a bitter taste in our mouths. It feels as though we don’t matter, that our ideas and creations never belonged to us in the first place… And for other fans who make art, I’m afraid this is going to be the future.”
As evidence of the purge, BuzzFeed points to a list of Taylor Swift-themed gifts it published in November. Only 3 of the 15 products from Etsy on the list now remain on the site. A search of Etsy reveals that there is still some Taylor Swift-themed products for sale — for now.
Another seller said they were “shocked” by the crackdown. “We didn’t feel as if it had become popular enough to cause harm to Taylor Swift’s empire… We didn’t even make enough money for a lawyer and this seemed like a harmless and fun idea.”
“We grew a little angry and felt targeted by her camp,” they added.
It’s rare for Taylor Swift to anger her fans, even inadvertently. The singer goes to great lengths to cultivate and support her following, including sending them hand-wrapped Christmas gifts, and helping one to pay off her student loans.
But Swift is also in the process of cracking down on unauthorised uses of her personal brand. She’s recently applied to trademark several famous lyrics from her songs. These include “this sick beat” and “nice to meet you, where you been.” That could mean that she plans on releasing her own merchandise featuring those lyrics in the future. Swift has reportedly been taking some action against Etsy sellers before this, however. The earliest takedown notice BuzzFeed saw dates from 2013.
Celebrities can also have “personality rights” to their image and unauthorised reproductions of it, but this varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In the UK for example, celebrities do not have a legal right to control the use of their image. But they can take legal action if a product is marketed in a way that suggests they have endorsed it. Rihanna won a long-running dispute with retailer Topshop over a T-shirt with a photo of her on using this line of argument.
There was also a similar incident to Taylor Swift’s with Beyoncé in January. The singer reportedly threatened to sue Etsy itself over mugs sold on the site with the word “Feyoncé” on them — a play on the words “Beyoncé” and “fiancé.”
Etsy has issued the following statement:
Because of privacy and legal concerns, we can’t verify specific information about who contacts us. However, I can share more information about our copyright and intellectual property policy: