Are Comedians Fairly Compensated By Streaming Services?

If we’re being honest, most of us are largely in the dark when it comes to the terms of the royalty agreements between labels, artists and streaming services. We know they get paid—there’s not a Napster or Limewire currently running afoul of musicians ans record executives alike—but as to the percentage of revenue shared, or how much an artist gets paid per stream, I would struggle to wager a guess, as would most people. But based upon the furor, it seems safe to say that comedians are making out poorly compared with their fellow creatives in the musical field.

Comedian Lewis Black lodged a $10 million dollar lawsuit against Pandora, claiming copyright infringement on the part of the streaming service. According to Black, Pandora has denied both he and fellow comedians due royalties from streaming their comedy albums on their platform.

At issue is the murky and heretofore unresolved question over what rights comedians and other spoken word artists have, and whether they’re entitled to the same royalties as musicians. Comedians are contending that, like musicians, their works have copyrights for both the recording and the publishing, and that they should be paid due royalties for both. Pandora in particular has pushed back against that idea, paying recording royalties but thus far not publishing. And they’re not alone; Black and other comedians have pulled their work from Spotify after failing to reach suitable agreements over royalty payments.

The results of the suit could prove consequential; if Black and other spoken word artists suddenly command greater royalties, streaming services will have to consider what to do with their library of comedy albums, or if they even want to keep spoken work works if their price tags aren’t quite the bargain they used to be.