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Taylor Swift doesn’t hate music streaming: she hates free riders

Singer Taylor Swift performs on ABC's "Good Morning America" to promote her new album "1989" in New York, October 30, 2014. The music streaming service Spotify is no longer offering Swift songs at her request, setting up a battle between the industry's most popular artist and the leading purveyor of a new music distribution system. Spotify, which pulled Swift's songs on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, said that "we hope she'll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone."

LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS

We now have more clues to the mystery of why Taylor Swift shook off streaming music service Spotify but stayed together with its rival Rdio.

Ms. Swift's new new album, 1989, broke sales records, but she surprised a lot of her fans on Monday when her label broke up with Spotify by announcing that all her music, past and present, would no longer be available to the service's users. Spotify is widely perceived to be the global leader of all-you-can-eat-style music subscription services.

But it's not as simple as Taylor vs. streaming. It turns out she will gladly make her music available for digital listening, so long as it's done in a way that fairly compensates her.

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Rdio, one of Spotify's chief global competitors, confirmed on Friday that Ms. Swift's pre-1989 catalogue would remain available on its service, because of its more flexible terms. (A representative from Rdio confirmed Ms. Swift's music's availability on Monday, but the full terms were not laid out until Friday.)

Consumers using Rdio's paid tier (about $10 a month for desktop and mobile user) get full access to Ms. Swift's music on demand. Her music is also available to all Rdio users on pre-programmed radio-style playlists, which are supported by ads. Both of these options involve money changing hands, eventually flowing to the artist, much like commercial radio pays royalties from its ad revenue to the creators of the music it plays.

Without a subscription or pre-programmed ads, though, users of Rdio's free tier can't access Ms. Swift's music. Ms. Swift and her label, Big Machine, are making a point by blocking that availability, without wholly remove her music from Rdio.

The difference may seem arbitrary, but the decision has three important take-aways. With its mix of pricing, Rdio may have developed a competitive edge in an otherwise crowded, confusing marketplace for streaming services. Ms. Swift, meanwhile, has been given the opportunity to show what happens when artists aren't compensated in a way they feel fair. And in that means no free streaming of her music: not any amount of it for any amount of time.

Putting a proper valuation on music is important to Ms. Swift, who this week told Yahoo! that she considered new music-consumption channels like streaming a "grand experiment." It's something she and her label take seriously, even when perpetrators act in jest. Late this week, a video circulated online syncing her song "Shake It Off" with an aerobics video from the actual year 1989 to much acclaim, but it was dropped by YouTube on Friday on copyright grounds.

1989, meanwhile, is still absent from Rdio and all other major streaming services. Ms. Swift and Big Machine have a history of "windowing" new releases on streaming services, leaving a window of time between an album's official release and its streaming premiere, forcing dedicated fans to buy albums outright.

To read The Globe and Mail's original story on Taylor Swift and Spotify, click here.

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