Today in Apple history: Apple backs down in Taylor Swift battle

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Taylor Swift Apple Music ad
These days, Taylor Swift regularly appears in Apple ads.
Photo: Apple

Wednesday22On June 22, 2015, Apple backed down following a brief standoff with Taylor Swift over royalty payments from the soon-to-launch Apple Music service. The company reversed a policy that would have denied royalties to artists during the streaming music platform’s initial three months of operation.

In doing so, Cupertino signaled that this was a kinder, gentler Apple than may have existed previously. Provided the whole thing wasn’t one big publicity stunt, that is.

“Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing,” Swift wrote to Apple in an open letter challenging the company’s stance. “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Responding to Swift, Apple VP Eddy Cue tweeted: “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple,” and agreed to suspend the original terms and pay artists throughout Apple Music’s life.

While this moment is comparatively recent next to other “Today in Apple history” posts I’ve made recently, it’s significant for a few reasons. For starters, it opened the door for Swift to become something of an Apple spokeswoman — she subsequently debuted her 1989 World Tour Live concert film on Apple Music and appeared in multiple commercial spots for the company.

More importantly, however, the incident summed up Tim Cook’s reign at Apple. During his time as CEO, Cook has sought to make his company appear a more benevolent, friendlier organization. This was something that Steve Jobs — who was best when it came to playing the scrappy underdog — was less well-suited for. Under Cook’s leadership, Apple is a world-straddling colossus, but one that takes every opportunity to show itself to be a “force for good” in the world, as Cook himself once said.

Cook has shown himself willing to sacrifice Apple’s return on investment for greater social good, embraced social issues like LGBTQ rights and the environment, and proven willing to change Apple’s stance on artist royalty payments to differentiate the company from similar multinationals.

Given that Apple continues to be subject to questions about its tax practices, it’s arguable whether Cupertino has been completely successful in all of these attempts to position itself favorably in the public’s mind. Nonetheless, Apple’s U-turn when confronted by the world’s biggest pop star is demonstrative of a much bigger transition Apple has undergone in the past few years.