Why Have Spotify And Pandora Declared War on Comedy?
Just when you thought Spotify and other audio streamers were done finding ways to piss you off, they have to go and declare a war on comedy?
As ComedyNerd told you back in December, Spotify, Pandora, and others have stripped nearly all popular comedy albums from their services, including recent work by John Mulaney, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer … oh heck, it’s pretty much all of them.
A quick recap of the problem: Spoken Giants (the spoken-word counterpart to music rights groups like BMI and ASCAP) wants comic artists to be compensated like music artists. When Spotify plays a Taylor Swift song, Tay-Tay gets paid twice -- once as the artist performing the song, and a second time as the writer of the music. (Does she get paid enough? Question for another day.)
Comedians, on the other hand, only get paid once -- even though Spoken Word argues comics, like music artists, should get cash for both writing and performance.
Since our last update, the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin, along with current comics Andrew “Dice” Clay, Bill Engvall, and Ron White, have sued Pandora for streaming their comedy without paying even a “fraction of a penny.”
It’s not like Pandora didn’t see this coming. In government filings from 2011 to 2017, the music streamer admitted that it might lose comedy content because it didn’t have licenses from rights organizations to stream the laughs. (Once Pandora teamed up with SiriusXM, it stopped including that possibility in its reports.)
Rather than work out a deal with companies representing comics’ rights, Spotify, Pandora, and other streamers yanked most comedy until this all gets figured out. That in and of itself sucks for comedy fans used to binging their favorites.
But now, Pandora has taken it to another level -- that’s right, the streamers are suing the comics.
The whole idea seems nutty--what did the comedians do besides make us laugh? According to Pandora, it’s price-fixing by a nefarious “comedy cartel.” Here’s a small sample of what the lawyers are alleging. Warning: obligatory legal wordiness ahead:
“In assembling its portfolio of the rights to the works of conspiring comedians, Word Collections also presents a genuine threat of achieving monopoly power in the market for the rights to perform, distribute, and reproduce the comedy routines embodied in comedy recordings, power that it can and will exert over Pandora and other services that offer comedy.”
The Academy Awards
Bottom line: Pandora, Spotify, and friends don't want to pay more. The real problem? Comedians haven’t asserted their right to this double payment over the years. Streamers like Pandora and Spotify claim that when comic artists signed their contracts, a package deal was implicit -- the record company acquired all the rights.
You can see where this is all headed: The courts. If we look at the music industry as a precedent, the likely outcome is that some kind of blanket license for comedy performances will be worked out (eliminating the need for streamers to negotiate individual rights for every comic and spoken word artist out there).
But that doesn’t mean that comedy fans are out of the woods. We at least have to consider the possibility: If the courts decide that audio streamers have to pay more for the funny stuff, Pandora’s latest lawsuit threatens that they may ban comedy permanently.
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Top image: HBO