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If you’re a comedy fan on Spotify, have you noticed something missing lately? Like .. the comedy? In the past few weeks, your favorites have been disappearing, including albums by artists like John Mulaney, Kevin Hart, Jim Gaffigan, Tiffany Haddish, and Jeff Foxworthy. (Ok, maybe he's not a “favorite," but he's gone.)
Lewis Black was one of the few comics remaining. But this week, the comedian asked Spotify to remove his Grammy-nominated Thanks for Risking Your Life to show solidarity with his funny brothers and sisters.
So what’s the problem? To understand the issue, take a popular music artist like Ed Sheeran. When Spotify plays Shape of You, it pays Ed as the artist who performed the track. But Sheeran gets a second royalty as well -- as the writer of the song.
So hold on a hot second, says Spoken Giants, a publishing-rights company that represents many of today’s top comics. If music artists are paid for both the performance and writing the track, why are comedy artists only paid for the performance?
Spoken Giants recently brought the issue to Spotify’s attention. And rather than pay up, the streaming giant chose to remove hundreds of comedians from the service on the night before Thanksgiving. Hardly in the spirit of the season.
When comics are removed from Spotify, “it truly hurts their exposure and income,” Black says. “Please put all of the comedians back on your platform and let’s sit down and find a way to pay us what we are owed for the words that make you laugh.”
Though they’re not paying up yet, other streamers like Pandora and Apple haven’t removed comedy content. That hasn’t stopped comics from raising the alarm. Comedian Kyle Kinane tweeted:
hey @spotify, what gives? how am i supposed to make .0463 cents per spin???
Performance pay rates are an argument for another day, but even minimal payments add up. In total, Kinane makes about two grand a month from all streaming services. That’s not a ton to live on, but it’s substantial as supplemental income. When Spotify yanks tracks to prove a point, it makes a real impact on comedian wallets.
Then there’s the issue of back pay. Before the formation of groups like Spoken Giants, most comics didn’t realize they were likely entitled to payment for writing their content. That means years of streaming without compensation.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m getting royalties for my stand-up,’” comic Eddie Pepitone told Vulture. “I thought that that meant I was getting paid for my written word. Then I come to find out we’re not.”
The issue isn’t going away soon, and it has implications for other spoken-word content such as audio books and podcasts. Of course, Spotify has some high-profile deals on that front. That didn’t escape the attention of comic Jen Kirkman, who tweeted:
Spotify pays (Joe) Rogan one hundred million dollars for podcasting and thinks comedians don’t deserve a few cents per “spin” of their comedy for writing credits. @Spotify removed all our albums due to this insane credit dispute.
Spotify is negotiating, but not backing down. In its view, the service has paid “significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so.”
Then pay up, say the comics. After all, argues Lewis Black, “a joke is intellectual property.” He's not kidding.
Top image: Comedy Central