Are Spotify and the comedy community joining the fight?
You don’t hear much about a “war on Christmas” this year, but you do hear whispers about a war on comedy. Spotify is under scrutiny for removing a significant number of comedy albums from its service, in response to numerous comics and their reps believing they are entitled to the same type of double royalty that musicians have always gotten.
Comedy performances are already earning royalties on streaming services for the mechanical license, that is, for the actual audio recording. But music, outside of comedy, requires two licenses: one for the recording and one for the song itself. It has long been the responsibility of performing rights organizations like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC to collect these publishing royalties for songwriters. Now, many comedians argue that they should be treated like singer-songwriters, earning a separate royalty for the underlying “literary work” as well as for its performance.
Spotify and other streamers, unsurprisingly, have effectively said “Wait a minute” regarding these new requests (or requests) for additional royalties, without denying or categorically affirming what the comedians are asking, yet. But it’s the movement that Spotify do respond to requests that have aroused anger and made the news. And the move was intended to remove much, or in some cases all, of the work recorded by comedians affiliated with the two new organizations seeking to collect those additional royalties.
Many of these comedy albums were deleted on or around Thanksgiving day before, in what some might consider the equivalent of a Friday night news dump. But the comics keep the issue alive until December and, presumably, beyond.
Last week Lewis Black entered the fray – currently a Grammy nominee for Best Comedy Album for “Thanks for Risking Your Life.” Its catalog was not taken down by Spotify during Thanksgiving week, but on December 12 it publicly requested that the service remove all of its recordings from the app, wanting to stand in solidarity with those most affected. (Spotify doesn’t seem to have heeded his request; as of December 16, it still had five albums available to stream, including the current Grammy nominee.)
The Laugh Button website, a comedy news source, noted the week after Thanksgiving that Spotify’s quiet album removal was affecting “all levels of comedians, from working comics to some of the game’s biggest names. “including Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney, Dave Attell, Mike Birbiglia, Chad Daniels, Tom Segura and Kyle Kinane. Subsequently, the site published a much longer list of comedians whose work it had noticed had at least partly disappeared, including Jeff Foxworthy, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Jeff Dunham, Larry the Cable Guy, Patton Oswalt, Bob Newhart, Paula Poundstone, Robin Williams, Amy Schumer, Lisa Lampanelli and many more.
The Laugh Button wrote: “The comics state that when their publishing houses approached Spotify and demanded the said royalties, Spotify decided it was easier to remove the albums in question rather than paying the comedians what they got. is legally due. … Artist publishing is a common practice in the music space, companies like ASCAP and BMI have been collecting artist royalties for decades. However, the concept is fairly new to comedy and this event seems like an inflection point for the industry as billion-dollar streaming platforms may have to come to terms with the idea they don’t have. not paid the comics accordingly in years.
What most of the comedians involved have in common is that they are affiliated with Spoken Giants or Word Collections, two rights organizations that have taken to the task of listing spoken word artists for literary royalties now. or as they will be established in the future.
Spotify pretty much pinned it down on Spoken Giants in its only public statement on the subject since the controversy erupted: “Spotify has paid significant sums for the content in question and would like to continue to do so. However, as Spoken Giants disputes the rights of various licensors, it is imperative that the labels that distribute this content, Spotify and Spoken Giants come together to resolve this issue to ensure that this content remains available to fans of the. whole world.
As Spotify is unwilling or unlikely to further explain its position in the media, the public conversation has been one-sided, with Spoken Giants CEO Jim King saying comedians only want the same rights and funds for their recordings as they do. singer-songwriters. have obtained for a century.
It is not difficult to guess, at least, which position of Spotify could be able to be in this setback: that these particular royalties had not been the subject of much discussion, let alone a recognized right, in previous years, and that he was therefore not on the verge of start distributing additional income out of the goodness of heart without these additional rights being formally established in one way or another.
The way she responded to Spoken Giants’ attempts to establish these rights, by dropping albums en masse and thus bringing an end to any the royalties they might generate through Spotify, may seem intelligently proactive from a legal standpoint, to some. But to many in the comedy community, it feels like some sort of union demolition.
“We want actors to benefit from the visibility offered by Spotify and earn royalties for their written work, which is the basis of every great comedy performance, ”King said in his own statement. “Nobody wants to lose Spotify as a platform, we just want to establish that the underlying written works of comedy have value.”
King is, not coincidentally in all of this, a former BMI executive, so he can be sure to tap into musical analogies as these discussions unfold, or not, if a deadlock persists. . “Taylor Swift writes her own music; she performs her own music. They’re two different tariffs, and each platform pays on those two different tariffs, ”King told Vulture. “We purposely focused on shaping the music industry because it’s very similar – almost the same as the music industry.”
In a statement to Time magazine about his request to withdraw from his own work in solidarity, Lewis Black said: “I do not in any way represent all comedians on Spotify, but I think everyone should be paid for the writing. that they did and not just for the execution of what they wrote. It took a long time for comedy to be recognized as an art form. Therefore, Spotify should recognize that a joke is too powerful than the lyrics of a song, which they pay for.… I don’t need any money or exposure, but please put all the comedians back on your platform and let’s sit down and let’s find a way to pay us what we are owed for the words you laugh in. Yes, a joke is intellectual property.
What is at stake for the actors? Not enough that they don’t have to make most of their money on the road just yet, but for some upper-middle-class or mid-level comics it could make a difference. Responding to the current controversy, Kyle Kinane tweeted that streaming revenue for his entire catalog is around $ 2,000 per month, based on roughly 180,000 streams. It is not a big part of a life in itself. But if that were doubled – not that anyone would expect literary royalties, which would undoubtedly increase over time if enacted, to immediately match performance royalties – it might be enough to tell the difference between some comedians. who stay in or leave the company.
What would Spotify and other deep-pocketed services (which also received the requests, but did not remove the albums in response) have to lose by awarding literary royalties for comedy albums? ? Maybe not much overall, although meeting royalty claims that have never existed before can be seen as a slippery slope downhill. What may be the greatest risk is leaving the confrontation unresolved while maintaining the goodwill of the comedy community as a whole, as the service continues to be synonymous with recorded comedy to a large extent through its offerings of. podcast with the best comics.