The biggest story in the comedy world the last few weeks has been Spotify’s removal of a large amount of comedy archives from its platform in retaliation to comedians asking for royalties.
The TL;DR of the matter is basically new comedy royalty companies began to dialogue with DSPs informing them they intended to start collecting mechanical/literary royalties on behalf of their clients. Like musicians this is something they are entitled to. However, until these companies spun up these royalties largely went uncollected. Most DSPs began to negotiate deals save for Spotify, who refused to make any contact the companies. Then, on Thanksgiving eve without warning, Spotify pulled comedy albums and catalog from its platform.
This obviously set off a series of events that a quick online search will net you hours of stories and hot takes about the topic. Most of the larger comedians effected like Kevin Hart, Jim Gaffigan, Tom Segura, and John Mulaney have yet to weigh in on the manner.
Enter Lewis Black, one of the biggest names effected by Spotify’s decision… last Friday Black released a statement calling for Spotify to remove the remainder of his catalog in an act of solidarity with all the other effected comedians.
“Many comics have recently been taken off Spotify for no reason at all and it truly hurts their exposure and income,” adding “Since I haven’t been taken off, I would like to be, as it is wrong that I am on the platform and so many aren’t. I need neither the money nor the exposure, but 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. Yes, a joke is intellectual property.”
Albums from Black’s catalog was removed but not all of it, including his 2020 Grammy Nominated release Thanks For Risking Your Life (released on The Laugh Button Records).
“It has taken a long time for comedy to be recognized as an art form. Therefore, Spotify should recognize that a joke is as powerful as a lyric of a song, which they do pay for.” He went on to clarify his actions, “I in no way represent all of the comedians on Spotify but I do believe that all of them should be paid for the writing that they have done and not just for the performance of what they wrote.”
Spotify hasn’t responded to many requests for comment, opting to release a singular statement that in part states, “Spotify has paid significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so.” It should be noted that the claim was never Spotify is not paying royalties rather they are not paying all properly owed ones.
It’s no secret that compared to radio airplay (traditional or satellite) streaming platforms pay pennies on the dollar to artists. Incredibly successful musicians (see Taylor Swift or Adele) have been able to influence better behavior from Spotify, but the story is quite different for artists that aren’t megastars. Many artists have fought Spotify over the years but for comedians, it’s new territory. Kyle Kinane’s breakdown of streaming royalties is currently making the rounds. Regardless of level of talent the basic thread of their arguments show that streaming companies valued at billions of dollars has yet to fully and adequately compensate with the talent that helped build them. Black can be thumb needed to tip the scales in this conflict. The comedy industry needs topline comics like him to help aide negotiations making him Taylor Swift-like in this scenario comedy needs.
As mentioned previously, The Laugh Button has a business relationship with Lewis Black, both in is podcast and as the label that released the Grammy Nominated Thanks For Risking Your Life. His request for Spotify to remove the album it does have an effect on us as a label. Regardless of this fact, we support Lewis’ actions as we feel they are done with both the best interest of not only comedians but comedy in the long run.