The ACLU of Northern California issued a press release today saying it intends to defend a blogger who has drawn the ire of Taylor Swift.
On October 25th, writer Meghan Herning received a letter from Swift’s legal team demanding the removal and retraction of a blog post she wrote in September titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.” The post appeared on PopFront, a tiny pop culture blog with 78 Twitter followers.
The post details how the online alt-right has latched onto Swift throughout her career, taking it upon themselves to dub her a white supremacist icon. From there, it dives into some textual analysis of Swift’s recent single “Look What You Made Me Do,” arguing that her lyrics “I don’t like your kingdom keys” is similar in tone and message to “‘We will not be replaced.” Later, it describes a scene in one of Swift’s music videos where “Taylor lords over an army of models from a podium, akin to what Hitler had in Nazis Germany. The similarities are uncanny and unsettling.” Herning concludes that “it is hard to believe that Taylor had no idea that the lyrics of her latest single read like a defense of white privilege and white anger[.]”
These are some pretty wild leaps of logic. Regardless, it’s not a crime to make stupid arguments about the meaning of an artistic work. If it were, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s estate would make a mint off of the essays of public high school students every year. The ACLU published the letter it sent to Swift’s lawyers, which explains how the First Amendment works, and makes some questionable puns involving Swift’s most popular songs.
“As you no doubt appreciate, Ms. Swift, as a celebrity and household name, is a general public figure under the First Amendment… Thus, the statements on the blog are protected by the First Amendment unless they are demonstrably false and you can show that the author made them knowing that they were false or with reckless disregard as to whether they were false… Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damage her reputation.”
The letter points out that opinions can’t be considered defamation because they are “not capable of being proved true or false.”
The original cease and desist from Swift’s team also told Herning that she was legally obligated to keep the dispute a secret, claiming that publishing their correspondence would violate the Copyright Act. The ACLU called this a “clumsy legal threat” and “utter nonsense.” The writing in this portion of the letter is particularly barbed:
“It is not without irony that at one point you ask that your ‘letter stand as yet another unequivocal denouncement by Ms. Swift of white supremacy and the alt-right,’ but then purport to forbid anybody from making the letter public.”
The ACLU requested a response from Swift’s team and an end to their threat of legal action by November 13th. Swift’s career has already put her in the center of broad debates about the streaming age, white feminism, internet-era celebrity, and Instagram’s anti-harassment efforts. Now she’s decided to wade into the hot-button issue of free speech just as her fifth album Reputation prepares to drop this Friday.
Its pre-released singles transparently address both her public feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West and her problems with the media in general, serving up clunky burns like “All the liars are calling me one” and “the world moves on, another day, another drama, drama / But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma.”
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