Comedy albums by John Mulaney, Tiffany Haddish, Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart and more were removed from Spotify over the past week after the streaming service reached an impasse with a licensing company seeking better royalties for comedians and spoken word artists.
The aforementioned comedians and dozens more — like Mike Birbiglia, Jim Gaffigan, Larry the Cable Guy, as well as the estates of Bob Hope, Don Rickles and Lucille Ball — are members of Spoken Giants, a creator’s right group “dedicated to nurturing and maintaining relationships with comedians, podcast authors, speech writers, and other spoken word creators,” their mission statement says.
Spoken Giants was recently in negotiations with Spotify (as well as other streaming services) over royalties: When a comedian’s work is streamed, they currently only receive royalties for performing their work, and but not royalties for also writing it. (By comparison, musical artists are given both.)
“Compared to music and other media, Spoken Word assets are under-represented in today’s sonic landscape and more importantly key rights, provided for under copyright law, are not paid by the very channels that obtain great value from using comedy works, podcasts, and other spoken-word assets,” a statement on Spoken Giants’ site reads.
However, when the two sides didn’t reach an agreement, Spotify simply pulled many of the comedians’ albums from their service starting around Thanksgiving, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In the case of Mulaney, only two albums recorded 10 years apart — 2009’s The Top Part and 2019’s John Mulaney & The Sad Sack Lunch — remain on the streaming service. Similarly, only a handful of Patton Oswalt — another Spoken Giants member — are still on the streaming service, most recent of which is 2017’s Talking for Clapping.
“Spotify does provide entertainers with exposure and access to large audiences. So having their work taken down is harmful to each individual creator,” Spoken Giants CEO and co-found Jon King — formerly of music publishing organization BMI — told the Wall Street Journal.
“There wasn’t much to collect before. Now it’s a completely different world where a Gaffigan or a Mulaney have billions of performances across these platforms. It now makes sense for a collective licensing business.”
Spotify told the Wall Street Journal that the service has “significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so.” However, the comedians’ work will stay off Spotify until the issue is resolved.