A major question at the heart of Kim Kardashian’s Sunday night Snapchat blessing—video footage that confirmed Taylor Swift was given prior warning of Kanye West’s line about her on his song “Famous”—is whether the phone recording is in fact lawful. And, if so, whether Swift has the right to sue.
On Kim’s part, either way, it’s legally dicy. Even though she chose to release the footage on a social medium designed to self-destruct within 24 hours, the receipts clearly trace back to her. Still, it’s hard to believe a person who’s normally so particular and savvy about news and social media would drop such a salacious bomb without first considering the legal repercussions.
TMZ reports that Swift’s legal team had knowledge of the recording before it was released. Her lawyers reportedly threatened legal action against West back in February, in a letter citing California law that prohibits recording phone calls without the consent of all parties. (California is what’s known as a “two-party state” when it comes to phone recordings, suggesting that Swift should have been told their call was on camera.) The letter reads in part:
“Demand is hereby made that you immediately destroy all such recordings, provide us of assurance that this has been done, and also assurance that these recordings have not been previously disseminated.”
This shows how much Swift’s legal and publicity team seemed to recognize the celebrity stakes at play (mostly, that Swift would look like a liar) if the audio were to be released.
As Gizmodo notes, “The legality of the recording will all depend on where the call was recorded,” and if Kanye recorded it from New York, both he and Kim could be safe legally. (As revealed on Sunday night’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kanye himself wondered about recording laws when he was recorded without his knowledge during an SNL rehearsal, but Kim told him that that wasn’t illegal in New York.) TMZ claims a source close to Kanye told them the call was recorded in a studio in L.A. and that “Taylor also has the right to file a lawsuit against Kim and Kanye for violating the law.”
A lawyer I consulted with explained that wiretapping laws are state-by-state and oftentimes, it’s unclear which state’s law will apply in specific cases. If the call was from California to New York, for example, it’s not exactly clear which state’s law would have precedence in a lawsuit. But, again, if both Kanye and Taylor were in California, the recording would be illegal. It’s also possible that before they released the clip, Kanye and/or Kim were prepared with an argument that Taylor was somehow aware she was being recorded.
Some of this rich backstory is detailed in Kim’s GQ cover story, wherein Kim recalls receiving a letter from Swift’s attorney. According to Kim, the footage is on record because Kanye was filming for a potential documentary.
“And then they sent an attorney’s letter like, ‘Don’t you dare do anything with that footage,’ and asking us to destroy it,” Kim told GQ’s Caity Weaver. “When you shoot something, you don’t stop every two seconds and be like, ‘Oh wait, we’re shooting this for my documentary.’ You just film everything, and whatever makes the edit, then you see, then you send out releases. It’s like what we do for our show.” Weaver wrote:
GQ later contacted Kanye’s reps to inquire about the possible video footage and threat of legal action from Swift’s team. While Team Kanye asserted that Kanye and Taylor’s conversation had been filmed and that they had heard from her lawyers, they declined to provide further proof.
This presumably means Swift was aware the recorded footage existed. When exactly she knew—at the time it was recorded or sometime after the fact—is unclear. In the GQ piece, Kim claims she’s not sure if Taylor knew she was being recorded at the time. Swift, in a statement released as a screenshot of an iPhone note, claimed she was “secretly” recorded.
Another lawyer, Joy Butler, who I spoke to before for this piece on celebrities tweeting, wrote in an email, “Potential loopholes for Kanye and Kim might include showing that Taylor Swift could not have reasonably believed the conversation to be private. However, that loophole seems a stretch quite narrow if Swift participated in the call from her home or private office and had no knowledge that the call was being recorded.”
She adds, “The broader, more macro loophole is attacking the specific law cited by Taylor’s team. Some wiretapping laws have been deemed unconstitutional because they prohibit recordings of all conversations absent consent and not just conversations in which parties had a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
The aftermath of this all remains, somehow, fascinating—especially when looked at through the lens of celebrity manipulation (by all three), calculated social media tactics, and racial implications. I have a solution: a duel.
Image via Getty