Comedian Lewis Black is suing streaming audio platform, Pandora, over publishing rights and copyright infringement. Pandora is owned by SiriusXM.
This is the latest action in an ongoing legal battle between comedians, streaming companies, and performing rights organizations that are trying to clarify digital rights and standardize copyright for spoken-word content. Black, who is one of many comedians that have gone up against a streaming platform, is arguing that Pandora streamed recordings of his performances without first securing the copyright to his written work.
Black’s lawsuit against Pandora, along with others, seeks payment for millions of dollars of publishing royalties. It also seeks to change how comedy copyright works. If comedians win the case, there could be ramifications for Pandora, Spotify and other audio streaming sites. Black is suing the company for $10.2 million.
Lewis Black is best known in the U.S. for his appearances on The Daily Show. The lawsuit states that Pandora chose to illegally profit from Black’s creativity and comedic/literary works.
As with music, the suit argues, comedy albums have both recording and publishing copyrights, and streamers should have to pay for both. The publishing copyright is for the written material that was recorded. Currently, publishing rights for spoken-word material, such as comedy, have been ignored and, at times, flatly denied by streaming platforms.
There have been similar lawsuits from comedians like Nick Di Paolo and Andrew Dice Clay, as well as the estates of George Carlin and Robin Williams, who are all represented by Word Collections performing rights agency. Those lawsuits were originally filed in February but were consolidated into a single suit in March. Black is represented by Spoken Giants, another performing rights agency, although it is not named in the suit.
Black joined the battle in December when Spotify pulled disputed comedy albums by comedians Tiffany Haddish and John Mulaney after negotiations with Spoken Giants broke down. As a show of solidarity, Black asked for his own material to be removed. This fight with Spotify has not yet culminated in a lawsuit.
One reason why the suit against Pandora is moving quickly may be because in its 2017 filing prior to being acquired by SiriusXM, the company noted that it streamed comedy material without having publishing rights and that it could be a liability if third parties asserted copyright claims.