History of the #FreeBritney Movement
Since 2019, the #FreeBritney movement, consisting of thousands of advocates and activists across the globe, advocated for ending the conservatorship of Britney Spears and for systemic change to improve the lives of everyone impacted by conservatorship abuse, especially people with disabilities and the aging community.
Before the Hashtag #FreeBritney
Britney Spears lost her civil rights on February 1, 2008, when her dad Jamie Spears and attorney Andrew Wallet were granted conservatorship over her person and estate by the Superior Court of Los Angeles. Fans were skeptical of the arrangement from the get go. Jordan Miller, owner and founder of BreatheHeavy.com, lamented Britney’s situation and signed articles with an impassioned plea: Free Britney.
Jamie called Jordan and yelled, “I will destroy your ass!” threatening to take down his site. Jordan complied with Jamie’s demands and ended his campaign while calling out the team’s “ZERO transparency and ZERO communication.”
With many fans and the public oblivious to what conservatorship meant, the arrangement remained largely unquestioned over the next decade while Britney gave dozens of interviews, performed in hundreds of shows, and sold millions of albums — all while having no access to her money.
First Wave: Britney’s Gram
In early 2019, fans wondered about Britney’s whereabouts following the cancellation of a second Las Vegas residency and an extended social media absence. Shortly after a post with the caption “We all need to take time for a little ‘me time’ :)” appeared on Britney’s Instagram account, TMZ reported that Britney had checked herself into a mental health facility.
On April 16, 2019, Tess Barker and Babs Gray, hosts of the podcast Britney’s Gram, released a voicemail they received from an anonymous paralegal who worked on Britney’s conservatorship. He revealed that Britney was being held involuntarily and painted a picture that the conservatorship was far more controlling than most fans had previously realized.
Tess and Babs asked Jordan for permission to use his original rallying cry as a hashtag for the new age of social media — #FreeBritney.
Protesters gathered outside West Hollywood City Hall for the first #FreeBritney rally on April 22. Newly appointed Judge Penny then scheduled an emergency status hearing in May. Britney attended the closed hearing with her mom Lynne while protesters gathered outside Stanley Mosk Courthouse. Through Britney’s case, advocates would learn about the broader issue of conservatorship abuse and pledged their support for other conservatees.
In the summer of 2019, Jamie Spears and business manager Lou Taylor each filed lawsuits against #FreeBritney advocates for speaking out against the conservatorship. Following allegations that Jamie abused Britney’s son, Jamie replaced himself with care manager Jodi Montgomery as conservator of the person while remaining conservator of the estate.
As the court hearing was continued to September then again to January, protesters rallied each time to show their support. But with little news coming out of the hearings, which were always closed by court-appointed attorney Sam Ingham, the public started losing interest.
Second Wave: Tik Tok
The Covid-19 pandemic caused the next hearing in the case to be rescheduled from April to July 2020. With much of the world sequestered at home and with a mind toward social justice following the #BlackLivesMatter protests, #FreeBritney began to gain steam on social media.
On July 4, 2020, Tik Tok user Mars Monroe posted a #FreeBritney explainer video, claiming that Britney was being “drugged and exploited for money.” It catalyzed a flood of content about #FreeBritney and brought an unprecedented number of activists, journalists, and film crews to the courthouse on the day of the hearing although all parties to the case attended virtually.
In September, Britney’s lawyer Sam Ingham decided to open up court hearings to the public. He also unsealed court filings, in which he requested changes to the conservatorship on Britney’s behalf and indicated that Britney “welcomes the informed support of her many fans.” Hearings were held every month while #FreeBritney activists organized rallies in cities from Paris to Buenos Aires, protested outside the offices of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment, and led campaigns to write to elected officials and media outlets.
As Los Angeles locked down during its first winter in the pandemic, the movement organized a virtual Zoom rally attended by 300+ advocates from all over the world.
Third Wave: Framing Britney Spears
On February 5, 2021, The New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears debuted on Hulu and FX, reframing Britney’s story and her treatment by the media but also introducing much of the world to #FreeBritney. The documentary led to a monumental wave of support for Britney and the movement.
The next virtual rally maxed out Zoom’s meeting capacity of 1,000 participants. Once Los Angeles opened up, the crowds outside the courthouse swelled. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey cited Britney’s case in calling for the collection of conservatorship data, and Congressmen Charlie Crist and Eric Swalwell invited Britney to testify on Capitol Hill. The conservatorship system was being addressed at the federal level for the first time.
In April 2021, advocates launched “Ingham End It Now” to demand that Sam Ingham immediately file to terminate the conservatorship. At a hearing, Ingham announced that Britney wanted to address the court directly for the first time since May 2019.
Fourth Wave: Britney Speaks
Ahead of the hearing for Britney to address to court, the movement organized a #DearBritney campaign in which advocates posted video letters to Britney to express love and support and also to remind her of her rights as a conservatee.
On June 23, 2021, Britney gave a heartbreaking testimony, heard around the world thanks to the court’s remote audio access program, detailing the abuse she endured at the hands of her management and conservators. Britney told the judge that she was drugged against her will, forced to work, and prohibited from removing her IUD. She also requested to be able to hire an attorney of her choice — a right she had been denied for over 13 years.
At the very next hearing, that request was granted, and Britney retained former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart to represent her.
In September 2021, the New York Times released a followup documentary Controlling Britney Spears, exposing the elaborate surveillance operation that Tri Star and Jamie Spears authorized that included illegal wiretapping in Britney’s bedroom and monitoring of #FreeBritney activists.
With the support of #FreeBritney, California Assembly Bill 1194 passed, granting conservatees the right to choose their own counsel.
Within months of joining the case, Mathew Rosengart executed a plan to suspend Jamie Spears and create the conditions for an uncontested termination.
#FreeBritney organizers partnered with conservatorship reform and disability rights advocates to organize the two largest ever rallies, closing off the street in front of the courthouse to make way for hundreds of activists traveling from all over.
On November 12, 2021, the conservatorship of Britney Spears was terminated.
With Britney free from conservatorship, her court case drags on as Jamie Spears and a bevy of lawyers — Sam Ingham, Loeb & Loeb, Jeryll Cohen, Geraldine Wyle, Vivian Thoreen, Russ August & Kabat, Sidley Austin, and mom Lynne’s lawyer — continue fighting to be paid from Britney’s estate. Court filings exposed Lou Taylor for her involvement in setting up the abusive conservatorship and building her company “on the back of Britney Spears.”
Today, activists are campaigning under the banner of #JusticeForBritney to ensure that those complicit in Britney’s abuse are held accountable as well as continuing to fight for conservatorship reform and disability rights.