Literary Works Comedy Panel
Comedians have never been paid for their copyright licenses on their writing and they're suing music services.
The temperature is rising on the issue of Literary Works copyright licenses and royalty payments for comedians. I’ll be using my page to moderate an important discussion with industry stakeholders during a livestream on:
Monday June 6th at 2pm EST.
The high-level synopsis is that spoken word artists, like comedians, are seeking royalty payments for the words underlying their recordings. They want to be paid for their writing as well as the recordings of the performances of what they have written. This is how musicians have been paid for decades. As with music, the copyrights exist for both the Recording and the Literary Work (composition). Platforms like Spotify and Pandora (not currently available in Canada) pay royalties to the owners of both copyrights when it comes to music, but the latter has never been paid to comedians*.
When Jim King, CEO of Spoken Giants (a global rights administration company for spoken word copyrights), approached Spotify for payments on these literary rights, Spotify responded that the record labels that distribute comedy content have to come to the table so that, together, they can resolve the issue. Spotify also proceeded to implement a “takedown” of comedy albums, including comedy artists such as Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney and Kevin Hart.
Spoken Giants is partly owned by the record label, 800 Pound Gorilla.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, in files submitted to the Security and Exchange Commission from 2011 to 2017, “...Pandora conceded that it was at risk of losing its comedy content because it doesn’t have licenses from rights organizations to stream the works….”.
With a complaint filed by King & Ballow, Pandora is being sued for $41.55 million in damages by Word Collections on behalf of the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin, and other comedians, such as Andrew Dice Clay and Bill Engvall. Jeff Price, CEO of Word Collections, (another global copyright royalty collections agency), attempted to negotiate a licensing agreement, which was allegedly rebuffed by Pandora.
According to Reuters, Pandora, (owned by SiriusXM) has filed counterclaims that Word Collections “…has formed a ‘cartel’ to monopolize comedian copyrights…”, also suggesting that “…if the comedians win, the company and other streaming services may have to remove comedy entirely….”
In my role as a Board Director for The Foundation for Canadian Comedy (CANCOM), I’ve put out requests to relevant industry stakeholders to join the panel. Jeff Price from Word Collections, Victoria Novak from Taylor Oballa Murray Leyland LLP, Michael Murray from PRS ACTRA, and Allison Dore from Howl & Roar Records have, thus far, agreed to join the panel.
For more info about CANCOM's collaboration with Word Collections, read more HERE.
*The payment of royalties to musicians is also complex and controversial, but the infrastructure has at least existed.