Taylor Swift famously fought against Apple Music for the right to be paid fairly as an artist. Ironic then, that the 26-year old singer is now under fire for stealing someone else’s art and refusing to pay.
In the lead up to the release her album 1989, Swift would make posts on social media with little snippets of lyrics to tease fans about upcoming songs. Right before the release of the album, Swift posted some lyrics to her song “I Know Places” along with this drawing of a fox.
The only problem was that the artwork itself belongs to Ally Burguieres, an independent artist from New Orleans. When Burguieres learned what happened, she tried to contact Swift or her management team, assuming the singer who fought so hard for artist’s rights would quickly correct the mistake. She was wrong.
According to an open letter to Swift, they refused to pay for the use of artwork unless Burguieres agreed to donate it all to charity. Naturally, that doesn’t help pay the bills. The whole letter, which has been shared over 1,300 times so far, is worth a read:
Dear Taylor Swift:
I am a professional artist. With years of work and support from customers, friends, and family, I have built a business around my designs and am (hopefully) adding my own small form of beauty to the world. I now have three shops in New Orleans and gratefully rely on people who demonstrate that art they love is worth paying for. I may “only” have 1239 followers on Instagram, but I believe my work has value. I believe there are many others out there like me.
As a professional artist, I was astonished to see you use one of my most popular designs on all your official social media platforms as part of your promotions for 1989. While I wondered why no one had sought permission or offered compensation to do so, I recognized that such endorsement is a once-in-a-lifetime boost for an artist and can skyrocket an artist’s career. Friends congratulated me and customers expressed joy. But congratulations turned to confusion. The design was a copy, and with someone else’s name signed to it.
I was devastated, but I took solace in thinking that someone so outspoken about artists’ rights would willingly fix her mistake. Mistakes are easy to make; I thought if you only KNEW about the error, you would do what is in your power to make it right. I was wrong. My efforts to combat the pirated and unauthorized copy (and your use and distribution of it to millions of people) were noticed, as you removed the post after several days. But the copy had been shared and downloaded countless times, and it seemed neither you nor your team intended on correcting your mistake.
After months of effort, I received an offer from you and your team that mentions no credit to me as the artist of the design, but does include payment of a “four-figure” amount, with the stipulation that I must donate it all. Taylor, as a professional, would you agree to such terms from Apple, or Spotify? My work is my living—it is how I pay bills and support my family and employees. Many of your fans are professional artists, and support themselves and their families with earnings from their intellectual property. Would you really profit from and distribute a copy of their work to millions of people, and then tell them they don’t deserve professional recognition or compensation?
I don’t know what will come of this letter, but for the sake of my own business and on behalf of independent artists like myself, I had to speak up. I have no ill will toward you, and I appreciate the theoretical virtue of your stance as a defender of art and intellectual property. I simply hope to see your actions fall more in line with the values you claim to hold.
So far, Swift and her team have not responded to the letter.