Spoken Giants, a global rights company focusing on spoken word, got in a royalty dispute with Spotify. This resulted in hundreds of comedians such as Kevin Hart, John Mulaney, Jim Gaffigan getting their comedy albums taken down on the streaming platform.
What was the dispute about?
When a musical artist releases a song or an album, they get paid both performance royalties and songwriter royalties. However, the spoken word does not get treated the same as music in copyright law. Comedians only get paid performance royalties, but do not get any ‘songwriter’ royalties or any compensation for writing the work. Spoken Giants calls this ‘literary rights’, and argues that comedians should get the same rights as musicians.
Spotify seems to disagree and ended up taking down the content from hundreds of performers because they could not reach an agreement. Spotify informed Spoken Giants that the work will stay down until they come to an understanding.
Spoken Giants CEO Jim King said that Spotify has a “clear process” for discussing compensation for comedy writers, but ended up removing the work instead of furthering the discussion.
“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,” said King. “With this takedown, individual comedians are now being penalized for collectively requesting the same compensation songwriters receive.”
Amidst this dispute, a Spotify spokesperson responded by saying that they “paid significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so”, and pushed the responsibility to the other parties in question.
It seems like they’ve reached an impasse. Spoken Giants is asking for comedians to get paid more, but Spotify argues that they already covered all the royalties when they closed the deals. Right now, it feels to me that Spotify is taking the comedy work hostage, essentially saying “If you ask for more, you’ll get nothing”.
I personally side with Spoken Giants on this. It’s going to be hard to fight against the current established copyright law, but comedy is an art and should be treated accordingly. With comedians like Bo Burnham blurring the lines between different genres and media, it’s a matter of time before the rules change.
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