Taylor Swift Beats Apple: A 21st-Century Magna Carta?

By James O Malley on at

The big story this morning is that Apple has been forced to U-turn on its Apple Music royalties plan after being faced down by a formidable enemy. But who was this titan that successfully took on the biggest company in the world? Microsoft? Google? The US Government? No, it was Taylor Swift.

The musician, who is presumably not named after Apple's iOS programming language, took umbrage at the news that Apple was trying to get out of paying royalties to artists who are streamed during the three-month trial of Apple Music, which will be launching soon. In a Tumblr post, Swift said:

"Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing. I say this with love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple has done. I hope that soon I can join them in the progression towards a streaming model that seems fair to those who create this music. I think this could be the platform that gets it right."

The story has been bubbling away for a few days, but it was only last night the story went nuclear, when Swift spoke out on it.

As she is one of the biggest acts in music today, and has an enormous social media following, Apple quickly announced a U-turn, with the company's Eddie Cue specifically citing Swift:



Even Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary was impressed.

So good news for independent artists and non-megastars. But now the question should be asked: was it people-power that did it? Or star power? What if it wasn't Swift complaining, but, say, moderately successful musicians who were all on independent labels? What if it were 100 of them? Or 1,000?

Apple has U-turned and apologised for stuff before. In recent years perhaps most noticeably this has been over Apple Maps and forcing Bono on to all of our phones; in the latter case the company soon provided a tool to remove him.

But none of these U-turns happened this quickly. This perhaps has something to do with the fact that Swift has a staggering 59 million followers on Twitter, fourth to only Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Barack Obama; add to that 71m likes on Facebook, 34.6m on Instagram. Forget a PR shitstorm: with these numbers, Swift could topple governments. (Well, maybe.)

The news comes just a week after Britain has celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. While that occasion is often dressed up as the King surrendering power to the people, it was actually an agreement between the King and feudal barons. The people didn't really get a say.

Arguably the situation with Apple Music is similar. At the top of the hierarchy is King Apple, which had previously thought it was strong enough to do whatever it liked. But as the last 24 hours has shown, it can be challenged and beaten by the biggest feudal baron, like Taylor Swift who has millions of peasants beneath her. And without her patronage, they could easily be turned on the King.

Perhaps the lesson is instructive on how future battles with tech corporations are going to play out: where recruiting Barons like Swift is going to be essential to standing up to the tech Kings.