Law (Taylor’s Version): 1st-ever Taylor Swift law course in Canada comes to Queen’s University


Queen’s University students with a Blank Space in their timetables may be pleased to learn that a first-of-its-kind entertainment law course will be offered later this year, centring on pop culture’s favourite Tortured Poet, Taylor Swift.
Swift’s megawatt stardom is already evidenced by her economy-boosting Eras Tour, but her influence also continues to be felt in the academic world. Prestigious U.S. universities like Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley are already offering courses on the pop star in disciplines including English, political science and business. Queen’s University itself offered a course on Swift’s “Literary Legacy” in 2022.But this latest class promises to be the first Swift-focused law course in Canada, according to Mohamed Khimji, an associate dean of academic policy at Queen’s law school, who will be teaching it come September.

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Khimji, a self-described Swiftie and corporate-lawyer-turned-law-professor, said he’s expecting heightened student interest in the class. In an interview with Global News, Khimji talked about the course content and his journey getting the class approved, all while dropping Swift lyrics along the way. Story continues below advertisement

“I’m expecting a lot of enthusiasm and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “Taylor Swift would say, ‘I need to calm down.’”Khimji’s announcement of the course coincides with the release of Swift’s latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, a 31-song behemoth of a record on heartbreak and grief.

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The class, called Law (Taylor’s Version), will cover core concepts in entertainment law, particularly contract, trademark and copyright law, while using Swift’s numerous interactions with the legal system as case studies.

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And no, it will not be an easy A.“It’s a serious course,” Khimji states, using “a very contemporary setting.”The idea for the class came about while Khimji was discussing the pop star’s re-recordings of her first batch of albums with a colleague. Story continues below advertisement

“She asked me, ‘Why did Taylor re-record her first six albums?’ So I started explaining the business and legal reasons why an artist might want to do that. And it made me think, you know, my students would be interested in knowing this as well,” Khimji explained.“I started doing some research on Taylor’s other interactions with the legal system and decided that there was enough substance there for a course.”Swift launched her re-record venture after Scooter Braun’s company Ithaca Holdings bought her former record label Big Machine Records. Because of the purchase, Braun now owns the rights to Swift’s music catalogue up until her 2019 album Lover, which was released through Republic Records.In effort to own her music again, Swift has, thus far, released four “Taylor’s Version” projects, re-recording her Fearless, Red, Speak Now and 1989 albums.

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“That’s a business decision that is framed by the copyright regime, and also framed by the specific agreement that she had with her first record company,” Khimji notes. Story continues below advertisement

In the copyright portion of his class, Khimji will use this case study to explore the “distinction between ownership of the masters, which are the recordings, and ownership of the performance, which is the songwriting and so on.”He’ll also dive into two lawsuits Swift fielded for copyright infringement over her hit, Shake it Off.As for the section on trademarks, Khimji said he’d pull a case study from Swift’s orbit, and focus on Travis Kelce, her NFL boyfriend. Kelce filed five trademark requests to protect his name and some of his signature catchphrases like “Alright Nah” and “KillaTrav” in October 2023.

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While teaching the core concepts of contract law, Khimji will also dive into Swift’s history with Spotify. Their legal feud resulted in Swift pulling her music off the streamer’s site for three years while bemoaning the meagre royalties that artists receive from the company per song play. Story continues below advertisement

When Khimji pitched the Swift-themed course to the Queen’s Faculty of Law, he was initially shocked that there was skepticism around the idea.“I’m a Swiftie, right? So I just assumed the idea would be met with universal enthusiasm,” he said.He learned that making a “pop culture phenomenon the subject of a course at a professional school” would take some convincing. In the end he was able to prove the academic value of the class and get it approved.

“Haters are going to hate and sometimes you have to shake things off,” he joked.“I’m a believer in pushing the envelope a little when it comes to what legal education looks like. Of course, I recognize that historical ideas have a lot of relevance today,” Khimji said, “But I also recognize that today’s students are going to be applying legal and business principles in a contemporary setting.”“There is value in making course material relatable, which is what this course is really trying to do.”Khimji notes that entertainment law is already an “appealing area for students” and he sees some future growth in this law specialization with the advent of social media “influencers.”“There’s a demand, I think, for fame and acquiring and engaging with it. And to that degree, the types of agreements that we see in the entertainment industry, I think, will be become more and more prevalent.” Story continues below advertisement

A working paper from the U.S.’ National Bureau of Economic Research notes that the “influencer marketing economy” grew from being worth about US$2 billion in 2021 to almost US$13.8 billion in 2022. With approximately 50 million content creators worldwide, that’s a whole lot of brand deals and contracts to negotiate.But for Khimji, the main reason to offer a course like this is to get students “excited and engaged.”Law (Taylor’s Version) will be offered as an upper-year elective, open to second- and third-year law students, and will begin at the start of the next academic year in September.

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