Spotify removes the work of some comedians from the streaming service



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cut the work of hundreds of comedians, including John Mulaney, Jim Gaffigan and Kevin Hart, amid a new battle for the payment of royalties.

Tiffany Haddish, Mike Birbiglia and a host of other popular artists have joined a group of artists trying to get paid a royalty on a copyright for the jokes they wrote when they air on providers of radio and digital services like Spotify, SiriusXM, Pandora and YouTube.

Much of the comedians effort is directed by Spoken Giants. The global rights administration company, founded in 2019, wants to collect royalties for the underlying copyrights of speech media composition – essentially the lyrics of comedians – in the same way songwriters are paid. for the use of their music and lyrics.

Spotify removed the content after reaching a dead end with Spoken Giants.

Currently, comics are paid as performers through their label or distributor and the digital performing rights organization SoundExchange when their recordings are released on a digital service. They are not paid directly as the writers of this work – for what Spoken Giants calls their literary rights.

Comedians’ complaints come as songwriters and artists look for ways to control their work and make more money from streaming services and radio.

Spoken Giants is led by Jim King, a former executive with performing rights organization BMI, with Ryan Bitzer and Damion Greiman, co-founders of comedy label 800 Pound Gorilla Records. The company started out representing comedy and joke writers, with plans to expand podcasts, speeches, and lectures.

Kevin Hart’s popular albums were also cut amid the royalty battle.


Jordan Strauss / Associated press

The organization began targeting streaming services and satellite and terrestrial radio in the spring. Other services and radio companies have spoken to Spoken Giants. After some negotiations with Spotify, Spoken Giants said they received an email on the eve of Thanksgiving saying they would remove works represented by the organization until an agreement can be reached.

“Spotify gives artists exposure and access to a wide audience. So taking away their work is detrimental to every creator, ”King said.

Spotify said it has paid “significant sums for the content in question and would like to continue to do so,” adding that the comedians’ labels and distributors have an interest in the conversation.

One of the challenges would be determining the funding for this new royalty payment. When Spotify signed agreements with labels and comedians distributors, it did so on the understanding that those agreements covered all rights requiring payment. If the new copyrights are to be paid, Spotify will either have to shell out extra money to distribute that content or carve out a portion of what it pays labels and distributors for literary rights.

Word Collections, a digital rights management company launched last year, also works to charge comedians and other spoken word artists for the use of their literary works in streaming, radio, social media, video games and more. fitness services.

The dispute highlights a changing media landscape disrupted by streaming. BMI and ASCAP were founded at the turn of the 20th century to collect license fees on behalf of composers and songwriters as radio took off. Historically, comedy had very few listeners in comparison. That has changed, Mr King said, with comedy albums available on streaming platforms and SiriusXM and others having entire stations dedicated to comedy.

“Before, there wasn’t much to collect. Now it’s a whole different world where a Gaffigan or a Mulaney have billions of performances on these platforms, ”he said. “This now makes sense for a collective licensing business. “

Stand-up comic Eddie Pepitone has said he didn’t realize he didn’t receive royalties for his written material until he signed to Spoken Giants a year ago. “That comics aren’t getting paid for their material is mind-boggling,” he said.

A similar problem is at play in music, where publishers are seeking a bigger slice of the streaming pie for songwriters, while Spotify and others are offering lower royalty rates.

Gerrit Elzinga joined Spoken Giants as the pandemic took off. His two full albums were recently pulled from Spotify, and now he feels in limbo, not knowing who to blame.

“It’s just a bummer because I really love Spotify,” he said. “People say streaming is a bad way to pay artists, but the way I see it is you have to look at it long term – people listen to stuff and it becomes a source of income.”

Write to Anne Steele at [email protected]

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