Spotify Made Joe Rogan Mega-Rich While Pandora Allegedly Ripped Off Comics

Andrew ”Dice” Clay, Bill Engvall, plus the estates of George Carlin, Robin Williams and Ron White are suing the steamer for millions in royalties

The country’s been in a bit of a frenzy over Joe Rogan’s $100 million Spotify podcast lately. But how is it that Rogan became perhaps the richest working comic in the world while fellow standup legends like Andrew “Dice” Clay, Ron White, and Bill Engvall—as well as the estates of George Carlin and Robin Williams—have made next to nothing from their hundreds of millions of listens at streaming giant Pandora?

That is a question the SiriusXM-owned outfit can try to answer in a California federal court now that it’s being sued for $44.55 million by the three living comedians and the estates of their departed colleagues over unpaid royalties and copyright infringement for using their material without paying the proper amount.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, Pandora is being called to account for its years-long practice—one in which Spotify also engages—of paying for copyright permissions for the comedians’ live performances, but not the material itself.

In other words, Pandora doesn’t pay for jokes.

“If you invent a product, and it sells, you want to be paid for that,” Engvall tells the Times. “And I think sometimes in this society, we tend to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.”

Engvall was rudely awakened to just how dire the situation is last month, when Pandora sent him a letter congratulating him on surpassing 600 million streams of his material from 227,000 listeners a month. Pretty great, if the SiriusXM company had paid him for the honor.

“It’s like sending someone a birthday card that says, ‘Whoops I forgot to give you a gift,’” Engvall says.

Streamers must pay for both sound recording copyrights as well as the underlying copyrighted written material in the case of music, through licensing operations like ASCAP and BMI. But there is no such system in place for the spoken word, nor any government regulations.

To do right by comics, Pandora would have to go to them individually and secure the proper rights to their comedy albums and other recordings of their bits. According to the lawsuits, Pandora willfully skipped that part.

“For years,” the suits, filed last week, contend, “Pandora has illegally made reproductions and digital broadcasts on its servers and provided streaming access to its users without a proper public performance license and, when applicable, a reproduction right license.”

Word Collection, the company representing the estates of George Carlin and Robin Williams, and is looking to become a sort of ASCAP for comics, claims in its suit that Pandora blew off its attempts to negotiate a licensing agreement for Williams’ work, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The suit further contends that Pandora offered its users 16 pieces of Williams’ work without paying so much as “a fraction of a penny.”

To explain the Pandora problem, Word Collection CEO Jeff Price used Williams as an example, telling the Times, “Let’s say he’s singing the words ‘reality, what a concept’—in that case… the licensing schema would have been in place, a royalty would have been generated and [Pandora] would be paying the license. But because he said the words ‘reality, what a concept’ […] they didn’t deal with it.”

The comedians claim that Pandora did it all on purpose. As evidence, the suits refer to Pandora’s Security and Exchange Commission filings from 2011 to 2017. Pandora admitted in the filings that it could lose its comedy content because it didn’t have licenses from rights organizations to stream the works. It also copped to being in serious risk of liability for copyright infringement.

According to the complaint, “This admission was only removed, not so coincidentally, after Pandora’s transaction with Sirius XM Radio.”

Richard Busch, a lawyer for the comics, wrote in the complaint, “Pandora did what most goliaths do: it decided it would infringe now to ensure it had this very valuable intellectual property on its platform to remain competitive, and deal with the consequences later. Later is now.”

Pandora declined to comment to the Times. SiriusXM declined to comment to THR.

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