We live in a world where social media users and fans believe they know more than industry experts and lawyers, often ignoring facts and legal principles.
Here's the situation:
Taylor Swift's decision to re-record her first six albums to reclaim the rights to her music has inspired her global fanbase. They are now urging other artists to follow suit.
When discussing "music ownership," we're referring to the rights to the "masters" - the original recordings of songs. In the past, masters were tangible, typically stored as tapes in record label warehouses, making physical ownership clear. Today, these masters exist as digital files, but the concept of ownership remains unchanged.
Recording an album to a professional standard is costly, often amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. Collaborating with top-tier engineers and musicians, and using high-quality equipment doesn't come cheap.
This raises a critical question:
Whoever pays the bill gets ownership of the "masters". This is because the financier aims to recoup their investment - the music industry is not a charity.
Traditionally, record labels have born the cost of album production and promotion, acting like today's VCs in the tech industry.
Taylor Swift's case is unique, as her masters were re-sold to a third party she disapproved of, who refused to sell them back. Her frustration is understandable.
But it doesn't have to be this way: Paul McGuinness, the legendary manager of U2, used to negotiate reduced investment from record labels to retain masters' ownership.
The value of a recording is easy to determine in retrospect. But when a record label invests in a debut album, the financial risk is extremely high, and it's only logical for the label to expect something substantial in return.