Taylor Swift’s Secret Police
The diva’s crack copyright unit and the dark side of being a star.
“I wasn’t going to do anything with it, until out of the blue I got a cease and desist letter from TAS Rights Management,” said Ronnie Cremer. He’s talking about ITaughtTaylorSwift.com, which he owns, and he’s noticeably upset.
“They said, ‘In three days you have to give up this website.’ Of all the thousands of websites out there that incorporate the name ‘Taylor Swift,’ why are they coming after me?”
Cremer is rom Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, a small city of just over 10,000 most noted for being Swift’s childhood hometown. He recently made the front page of the New York Daily News in an exposé-style piece depicting him in an intimate role as young Swift’s formative-years guitar teacher. It’s a role the star, with her widely propagated legend as a self-taught player, doesn’t directly acknowledge.
Soon after spilling his guts to the reporter, an indignant Cremer jumped online and registered the renegade url.
He’s unclear as to how TAS knew he registered the domain, and two other similar ones, since they were purchased after the article ran and no mention of them is made.
He isn’t the only one to recently feel the flex of Taylor Swift’s enforcement arm. Just last week, users of online arts marketplace Etsy were presented with cease and desist letters all their own.
Focusing on items bearing Swift’s lyrics and likeness, sellers were ordered to take down the products at once or face legal proceedings, the latest of what is reported to be an ongoing operation targeting Etsy stores capitalizing on the singer’s copyrights.
All of this came just days after Swift’s representatives registered assorted lyrics, including “this sick beat” and “’cause we never go out of style” with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
While not an uncommon move in the brackish waters where intellectual property and merchandise merge, Swift’s territorial posturing made the news cycle and raised some hackles, even spawning a heavy metal song in retaliation.
It is, however, unlikely that the pop star knows that the cease and desists and trademarking are happening until after they are completed.
That’s what T(aylor)A(lison)S(wift) Rights Management, LLC is for.
Counterfeit items cost US companies a staggering $200 billion annually. Someone has to protect the multimillion-dollar empire Swift Inc. has built. Fellow pop icon Katy Perry has a similar team, and Beyoncé has been known to get a little hot under the copyright collar as well.
Just how widespread TAS’s Etsy crackdown is remains unknown, and at time of writing Etsy showed some 191 items tagged with ‘Taylor Swift,’ from sneakers and bracelets to paintings and mugs.
Now, back to Cremer.
To the layman, It seems a little unclear exactly what copyright he would be infringing upon with his site, even though the letter he received clearly stated TAS felt he was “likely to dilute and tarnish the famous Taylor Swift trademark.”
Cremer says he knows.
Cremer alleges that Swift’s story of experiencing a “magical twist of fate,” leading to her eventual musical stardom, is false. Depending on your choice of source material, legend has it that a computer repairman (presumably Cremer) either saw her guitar in the corner while fixing her desktop and taught her a couple chords, or happened to have his guitar with him on the service call, graciously lending it to the aspirational songstress for a week or two.
Either way, no where does it mention said repairman signing on as a guitar teacher.
He has other issues with Swift, as well.
“She said she’d get bullied in school. She’d come home and cry and teach herself guitar, and that pretty much explains the absence of me, right?” he demanded. “And what she would do is ‘play the guitar until her fingers bled,’ according to her. And then her mother says, ‘there’s not a bullet I wouldn’t take to remove that pain from her, it’s really hard when you see your child come home crying.’ I mean, they put this act together so flawlessly.”
But he insists that’s all it was: an act drummed up to personalize the star for potential fans.
“If it had come out at the beginning that she was filthy rich her entire life, nobody would have bought into her quite so much,” Cremer asserted, scorn clear in his voice. “That doesn’t sell as good. That she hired this 36-year-old, chubby bald guy to come over and give her lessons two days a week—a teenage girl doesn’t want to hear that.”
Cremer says he feels he’s not getting his due as Swift’s first teacher, and he’s fed up.
“I have no reason to lie for this,” he continued. “I can’t begrudge her success for a second, and I am proud of her. But just admit where it comes from.”
Of course, there’s another way to look at all this: What tween girl is going to divulge her personal torment to a 40-something guitar teacher she only sees a couple of hours a week? In what world would Cremer have found himself in a situation to pick up on the intimate life details of a 13-year-old?
There are also areas where the allegedly spurned guitar instructor’s timelines don’t quite line up. Cremer claims to “know a lot of girls Swift went to high school with,” and that she “was, in fact, one of the more popular kids.” Yet from her freshman year onward, she went to school in Hendersonville, Tennessee—nowhere near Cremer in Pennsylvania.
This isn’t to say there isn’t some merit to his story.
There is a clearly traceable connection between he and the family. From the platinum record hanging in his repair shop—a gift from the Swift’s that “showed up via FedEx” a while back—to photos of himself and Swift as a young, aspiring musician, to a $5000 guitar that he claims Swift’s father traded him for the old, beat-up one his daughter strummed her first chords on, there is no doubt he knew them.
But there is also no sign that they were ever anything but overly gracious to a man who—for a couple hours a week for a couple years—taught their teenage daughter some guitar and helped her record a demo.
So why wait until now to attempt to dispel the legend Cremer feels Swift and her team have built up?
To his credit, Cremer didn’t seek out the New York Daily News, or any other press. They tracked him down, surprising him at his shop with a reporter.
Now he just wants peace of mind from a supposed snub he says has been festering inside him.
“I look like a liar,” Cremer says. “I have a four-year-old son, and someday he’s going to hear about all of this, and I want him to know that I’m honest.”
Rather than looking for a payout to go away, which Cremer insists he would never accept, he says there’s a much simpler solution—for Taylor to acknowledge that what he says it true. Come clean to the world about his role in the creation of one of the biggest pop stars of all time.
But isn’t a platinum record and high-end guitar clear enough acknowledgement of this role? What more validation could he possibly need?
This begs another question: How much of a role did he really have? The Daily News story found other guitar teachers who say they worked with Swift. Does showing her a few chord progressions amount to a stake in her ultimate success?
Seven days have passed since he was threatened by TAS Rights Management. Cremer still has the site, and he currently has it redirecting to his Daily News article.
Neither TAS nor Swift’s 13 Management Company would comment on the record for this story.
Of course, admitting that her roots lay in the calculated machinations of a wealthy family looking to breed a star could potentially cost Swift and company a lot more than all the counterfeit ETSY crafts in the world: It could cost them their credibility.
Luckily for them, it’s ultimately not Swift’s credibility that is in question with all of this.