On the night before Thanksgiving, Spotify ( (SPOT) - Get Spotify Technology SA Report) removed thousands of comedy tracks by household name performers including Robin Williams, John Mulaney, Mike Birbiglia, Jeff Foxworthy, and others as reported by Consequence. This is clearly no laughing matter for comedians.
At the moment, the exact reasons behind the removal of popular albums such as Mulaney’s New in Town and Birbiglia’s Two Drink Mike are unclear, but the move was quickly noted by comedians, as Birbiglia Tweeted on November 27th: "Does anyone know why some of the Comedy Central albums got taken off Spotify? 3 of mine are gone, some of Mulaney’s, one of Attell’s, but then some are still there— like Hedberg. Anyone know about any rights things happening behind the scenes with comedy albums?"
The issue appears to be that earlier this year Birbiglia signed with Spoken Giants, an organization formed in 2019 that bills itself as “the first global rights administration company for the owners and creators of Spoken Word copyrights.” Formed by former BMI executive Jim King and Ryan Bitzer and Damion Greiman, the heads of the comedy label 800 Pound Gorilla Records, the organization has recently begun reaching out to streaming services and radio platforms to begin negotiation rates for spoken word performances.
There are two separate but related copyrights for performances, as all musicians know, one for the written material and one for the actual recording. (This is one of the reasons why the Grammys can get so confusing as some awards are for the writer and some are for the performer).
ASCAP and BMI have long helped songwriters get royalties for their material as related to radio play, commercial syncs, and other uses, but comedians have typically only gotten royalties for the recordings, not for the actual writing of the jokes. As Spoken Word states: “Comedians DO NOT make $ for WRITING a joke when that joke gets played on digital platforms like SiriusXM, Spotify, Pandora, and Apple.”
Getting Comedy Giants Paid
Spoken Giants isn’t the only organization that is trying to change the way comedy and spoken word material royalties are collected, as Word Collections started last year with a similar mission. But so far Spoken Giants has attracted an impressive collection of talent, including Patton Oswalt and Lewis Black, as well as the estates of Bob Hope, Desi Arnaz, and Lucille Ball. It also seems to be at an early impasse with Spotify, as demonstrated by the abrupt removal of material.
Confusingly, as reported by The Laugh Button, Kevin Hart, John Mulaney, and the Robin Williams estate all had materials removed from Spotify, even though they are not members of Spoken Giants. When reached by The Laugh Button, Spotify responded:
“Spotify has paid significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so. 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.”
Spotify’s stock price is down 0.50% today.