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Taylor Swift documentary to premiere next year, despite Big Machine dispute

By | Published on Friday 6 December 2019

Taylor Swift

So, two weeks ago Taylor Swift performed at the American Music Awards. Now – in her latest roundhouse kick to the face of the powers that be – she is releasing a documentary on Netflix. That’s the power of social media, my friends.

Netflix has confirmed that it will begin streaming ‘Taylor Swift: Miss Americana’ early next year, after the film first premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on 23 Jan. The documentary, the company promises, will deliver “a raw and emotionally revealing look at one of the most iconic artists of our time during a transformational period in her life as she learns to embrace her role not only as a songwriter and performer, but as a woman harnessing the full power of her voice”.

That voice has been largely used recently to speak out against her former label Big Machine – including claiming that it was seeking to block her AMA performance and this documentary.

The musician began speaking out against Big Machine earlier this year, of course, after Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings bought the record company. At the time Swift said that the deal, which included the recording rights in all but her most recent album, was her “worst case scenario”, because, she said, Braun has a history of bullying her.

More recently, in one of various statements posted on social media, Swift accused Big Machine of threatening to veto various projects unless she agreed to not re-record her old albums – something she has said she will do as soon as her agreements with the label allow, in order to devalue the masters that Braun and Big Machine control. Those projects under threat of veto included her performance at the American Music Awards and this Netflix documentary.

Big Machine has denied that it ever attempted to veto anything – although her people have countered that the company never actually addressed her specific allegations. The label could not stop her from performing at the awards ceremony anyway, but it was claimed that Big Machine was using a seldom, if ever, used (in this context) right over re-records to stop the performance appearing on TV catch up services. In the case of the Netflix film, Swift said that Big Machine was withholding permission to use archive music and footage.

Ahead of the AMAs, after saying that it wasn’t doing anything to block her from performing, Big Machine said that it had done a deal with the award show’s producer Dick Clark Productions to make sure that she could perform at the event, and that said performance could be broadcast and webcast. And so she did perform, singing a medley of hits to celebrate winning the show’s Artist Of The Decade prize.

That just left the Netflix film, which got a little forgotten among the more pressing scrutiny of the AMAs issue. When it commented on her initial allegations, Big Machine said: “At no point did we … block her Netflix special … Since Taylor’s decision to leave [us] last fall, we have continued to honour all of her requests to license her catalogue to third parties as she promotes her current record in which we do not financially participate”.

With no further public statement on this issue from Swift or Big Machine – or Netflix for that matter – we don’t know if any deal was ultimately done. Or, indeed, had already been done. Netflix could try to put out the documentary with unlicensed Big Machine material and claim doing so was covered by the ‘fair use’ principle under US copyright law. Though doing so would be messy and, technically, only cover the video-on-demand service in America.

So it seems likely that Big Machine has provided the necessary licence. Maybe it was always going to. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe Taylor’s public ranting secured the necessary deal. Maybe her angry fans did it. Maybe her angry fans (and opportunistic American politicians) shouting at Braun’s financial backer did it. Maybe the deal was done even before Swift started ranting. Maybe she’s a liar. Maybe he’s a liar. Maybe they’re a liar. Maybe everyone’s a liar.

But hey, come on now. It’s nearly Christmas. Can’t we all just get along? Maybe we could go and buy a Christmas tree together. You know, from a Christmas tree farm. Like the one Swift has just written a song about. In a tweet yesterday, she told fans that she’d written this festive track recently, but it “seemed weird to just wait a year to put it out”, so she’s dumping it on us now.

Here it is then – with no involvement from Big Machine, so no chance of a fight (not even a snowball fight) – Taylor Swift’s new seasonal tune, ‘Christmas Tree Farm’: