"Too Little Too Late" singer JoJo similarly re-released her first two albums after cutting ties with her former record label

By Tomás Mier
July 16, 2019 12:35 PM
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Following Taylor Swift’s drama with Scooter Braun and her former label Big Machine, Kelly Clarkson thinks that the “ME!” singer should head to the studio to “re-record all the songs” she doesn’t own. But how possible is this, legally?

PEOPLE spoke with two music legal experts to see if Clarkson’s proposed solution could actually help Swift — who has writing credit on every song she’s dropped — regain control of over 100 tracks released under her former label Big Machine.

“@taylorswift13 just a thought, U should go in & re-record all the songs that U don’t own the masters on exactly how U did them but put brand new art & some kind of incentive so fans will no longer buy the old versions,” Clarkson, 37, tweeted on July 13.

Clarkson’s idea may certainly be worth a try for Swift, 29 — but experts say it’s unlikely that she could do that right now.

Susan Hilderley, co-founder of UCLA Law’s Music Industry Legal Clinic, explains that artists are subject to common “re-recording restrictions” in contracts. Typically, those restrictions end at the later date of either five years after releasing the tracks or two to three years after the end of an agreement.

“Taylor Swift signed with Republic Records last fall so that presumably is when the term of her Big Machine agreement ended,” Hilderley tells PEOPLE. “Right now, she’s probably still under a re-recording restriction with Big Machine. That doesn’t mean though, that in a couple years, she wouldn’t be able to re-record those songs.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Taylor Swift vs. Big Machine: Why It’s in Her Favor to Go Public with Their Feud

Attorney L. Lee Phillips, who represented Prince for his original contract with Warner Brothers, echoed that sentiment.

He said that though Swift wouldn’t be able to stop what Big Machine does with the original tracks, re-recording or threatening to re-record them could “certainly interfere” with the label.

“That sometimes makes the label say, ‘Let’s make a deal,’ depending upon a lot of factors,” he tells PEOPLE.

Considering the typical restrictions, Swift likely wouldn’t be able to re-release 2017’s reputation until 2022 but would possibly be able to release her first five albums before then.

Singer JoJo — who retweeted a post supporting Clarkson’s idea for Swift — went through a similar process after severing ties with her original label and undergoing a seven-year legal fight. In 2018, the 28-year-old re-released albums JoJo and The High Road from the early 2000s.

Kelly Clarkson, JoJo and Taylor Swift
Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Gary Gershoff/WireImage; Steve Granitz/WireImage

“Those were records under an old deal from over 10 years ago,” Hilderley explained. “She was no longer subject to a restriction on re-recording the songs.”

“I didn’t own my voice,” JoJo told PEOPLE in 2016. By then, the 28-year-old was already signed with Atlantic Records, but her first two albums were not made available online by her old label.

“Even though I’d gotten out of that record deal, I was still feeling the effects of how things were mishandled,” she told W Magazine.

On the re-released albums, JoJo remade “everything from scratch.” Swift would likely need to do the same.

Clarkson’s proposal also mentioned creating “brand new art” for the albums. Hilderley says doing so would be necessary since Big Machine likely owns the copyright of the original album artwork.

“In the age of streaming, how much does that really matter?” says Hilderley. “We’re not talking about people going into record stores buying the CD and looking at the album artwork. That would probably not be an impediment to re-recording.”

Swift is currently feuding with Big Machine co-founder Scott Borchetta and Braun, who manages Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, after the latter closed a $300 million deal with her former label, allowing him to gain control of her musical catalog.

Scott Borchetta, Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun
Rick Diamond/Getty Images; Larry Busacca/Getty Images; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

The “Look What You Made Me Do” singer expressed her disgust regarding the situation in a scathing Tumblr post in which she accused Braun of “manipulative bullying.” She also shared that the music manager having control of her music was her “worst case scenario.”

“[Former Big Machine label head] Scott Borchetta never gave Taylor Swift an opportunity to purchase her masters, or the label, outright with a check in the way he is now apparently doing for others,” her lawyer Donald Passman previously told PEOPLE in a statement.

Swift reportedly would have had to sign a deal that would bind her to Big Machine or its new owner for another 10 years in order to buy her masters or the label.

Braun has yet to respond, though Borchetta has since accused Swift of bending the truth, claiming he did offer her a deal to gain control of her assets, and that he was unaware that Braun bullied her.

Taylor Swift
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Swift hit the stage for the first time since Braun bought Big Machine on Wednesday at Amazon’s Prime Day concert in New York City.

The singer did not address the beef directly, but emphasized the “Shake It Off” lyrics “Liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world.”

The singer’s first album under Republic Records, Lover, hits shelves on Aug. 23.

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