Although some of us might forget since we’re too busy laughing, comedians, like songwriters, write content to entertain us. There’s a difference though: Songwriters get paid royalties for their written work, comedians don’t. In the age of streaming, comedians are hoping to change that, especially considering the popularity of their content on digital platforms. But they’ve just run into a wall named “Spotify.”
Spotify took down the work of hundreds of comedians, including big names like John Mulaney, Jim Gaffigan, and Kevin Hart, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. Mulaney, Gaffigan, Hart, and other comedians are represented by Spoken Giants, a global rights company that’s leading the fight to get radio and digital platforms, such as Spotify, SiriusXM, Pandora, and YouTube, to pay comedians royalty payments on the copyright for their written work.
According to the outlet, the streaming giant been in negotiations with Spoken Giants but couldn’t reach an agreement. On Thanksgiving, Spotify informed Spoken Giants that would pull all work by comedians represented by the organization until they could come to an understanding.
Spoken Giants CEO Jim King, a former executive of music rights company BMI, told Gizmodo in a statement that the company has a “clear process” for engaging with digital service providers, digital platforms, and radio to discuss compensation for comedy writers. Unfortunately, he said, Spotify removed the work of individual comedians rather than continue negotiations.
“In music, songwriter royalties are a very basic revenue stream, so this is not an unfamiliar concept and our work is based on established precedents and clear copyright language,” King said. “With this take-down, individual comedians are now being penalized for collectively requesting the same compensation songwriters receive.”
King said that Spoken Giants reached out to Spotify after it removed its members’ work but has not received a response. He added that the company had requested an immediate meeting with Spotify to resolve the situation.
If the fight to pay comedy writers for their work seems to have come out of the blue, that’s because for a long time there wasn’t a lot of money to collect. Comedy was not generally played on traditional sources, such as radio. With the advent of digital platforms, that’s changed. Now comedy is being played “a lot” on these platforms, according to Spoken Giants.
After pointing out that Spotify paid a “significant amount” of money for the content it took down, a company spokesperson told Gizmodo that Spoken Giants is disputing the rights of various licensors. Comedians are currently paid as performers through their label or distributor. In addition, they’re paid digital performance royalties by SoundExchange when their work is played on a digital platform.
“Spotify has paid significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so,” a Spotify spokesperson said. “However, given that Spoken Giants is disputing what rights various licensors have, it’s imperative that the labels that distribute this content, Spotify and Spoken Giants come together to resolve this issue to ensure this content remains available to fans around the globe.”
A big issue is where the royalty payments Spoken Giants and other rights organizations are clamoring for will come from, the Journal pointed out. Spotify closed deals with comedians’ labels and distributors thinking that it had already covered all the royalties that needed to be paid out. Now Spoken Giants says it needs to pay a royalty on the writing. There are seemingly two options: Spotify could take some of the money it pays labels and distributors to pay comedy writers, or it could pay the royalties on written work without touching the other payments.
Considering Spotify’s resistance to paying higher rates to publishers and songwriters, something tells me a bigger price tag will be a hard sell.