Lewis Black Calls for Spotify to Remove His Content Until Comedy Licensing Dispute Is Resolved

Comedian Lewis Black is calling for Spotify to remove his content amid a licensing dispute between the streaming service and hundreds of comics.

Black’s request comes in response to Spotify’s removal on Nov. 24 of numerous comedy recordings it offers, including work from major comedy stars like Mike Birbiglia, John Mulaney and Jeff Foxworthy. The streaming giant is currently battling with collection agencies Spoken Giants and Word Collections over whether comedians and spoken word artists should receive royalties for their underlying works, as well as their recordings.

“I believe that the written words that go into making songs or comedy should be valued equally,” Black said in a statement to Billboard. “Comedy is an art form that starts on the page before it moves to the stage. Just as in songwriting, the creative process is mysterious and unique to each creator. Writing is the essence of our livelihood. If it’s not valued, it can not flourish. Writer royalties, which are such a basic revenue stream in music, helps sustain the next generation of creators so they can continue to create. So it should be with comedy.”

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As previously reported, every recording involves two copyrights — the recording itself, as well as that of the song being performed — a spoken word performance involves a recording but also an underlying literary work. The copyright to that literary work, just like that of a song, encompasses the elements of a performance that one can write down on a piece of paper. In comedy, this refers to written jokes — not the concepts behind them, but the way they are phrased.

A Spotify spokesperson said at the time, “Spotify has paid significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so. However, given that Spoken Giants is disputing what rights various licensors have, it’s imperative that the labels that distribute this content, Spotify and Spoken Giants come together to resolve this issue to ensure this content remains available to fans around the globe.”

A portion of Black’s content was removed from Spotify on Nov. 24, but some of his material — including his 2020 album, Thanks For Risking Your Life — is currently featured on the streaming service. Thanks For Risking Your Life is nominated for best comedy album at the upcoming 2022 Grammy Awards. The comedian previously won in the category for The Carnegie Hall Performance (2006) and Stark Raving Black (2010).

“It’s so punk rock for a Grammy-nominated icon to stand with his community and say, ‘Take me down until everyone is back up,’ even as Grammy voters are reviewing nominated work and casting ballots,” Jim King, a former BMI executive turned Spoken Giants CEO, said in a statement. “Like us, Mr. Black is urging Spotify to come back to the table over writers’ royalties.”

King continues, “We want comedians to benefit from the exposure Spotify provides and earn royalties for their written work, which is the basis of every great comedy performance. No one wants to lose Spotify as a platform, we just want to establish that underlying written works in comedy have value.”

Black and King recently discussed the licensing dispute with Spotify during a segment on BBC World News. Watch the interview below.

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