Spotify pulls top comedians' albums amid royalty dispute

Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are among those affected.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Mohegan Sun

If you've wondered where your favorite comedy album went on Spotify, you're far from alone. The Wall Street Journal reports Spotify has pulled hundreds of comedians' albums after it and rights administration company Spoken Giants stalled on a deal for written-word royalties. The missing albums come from stars like Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and John Mulaney.

As with earlier songwriter disputes, this latest fight revolves around compensating more than just the performance. Spoken Giants wants its artists to receive royalties as the joke writers, not just for their time behind the microphone. The rights firm started talking to online services in the spring, but learned just before American Thanksgiving that Spotify would pull comedians' work until there was an agreement.

Spotify defended itself in a statement to the Journal. The company said it paid a "significant" amount of money for the comedy material and would "love" to keep paying, and that distributors and labels also had a say regarding payouts. Some material remains from those comedians on Spotify as of this writing, but much more of it is available through rivals like Apple Music.

It's not surprising that Spotify would clash with Spoken Giants. If Spotify also had to pay writing royalties, the service would either have to pay more overall (clearly Spoken Giants' ideal outcome) or set aside some of the existing share for distributors and labels. Either could hurt Spotify's bottom line, and it doesn't have much breathing room when its average revenue per person was about $4.91 last quarter.

At the same time, though, the dispute and removal come at a particularly sensitive time. With live standup still far from what it was before the pandemic, some comedians are still highly dependent on albums and other digital releases. They're clearly eager to improve that income, and may feel some extra pain when they lose the support of a streaming heavyweight.

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