How Much Does a Laugh Cost? Comedians’ Rising Demand for Royalty Payments for the Composition of Jokes

Siena Stanislaus

In 2019, Spoken Giants was founded as the first Global Rights Administration Company for the owners and creators of spoken word works—including comedians, podcast authors, speech writers, and others.[1] Like ASCAP does for works of music, Spoken Giants aims to protect public performance, copying, and synchronization of Spoken Word works.[2] In the world of copyright, recording rights (for audio recordings) are separate from composition rights (for the written work). Spoken artists are currently paid in the form of royalties as performers of their audio recordings only.

A similar concept is present in the music industry. The royalties earned from a recorded version of a song (recording rights) are different from those earned for actually writing the music (composition rights). Historically, royalty payments for comedians’ audio recording only made practical sense, as comedy recordings were traditionally not played on radio stations the way that music recordings were. However, with the rise of streaming services, spoken word intellectual property has become widely accessible and attracts audiences of all types to various platforms. Streaming platforms, like Spotify, SiriusXM, and Pandora, generate revenue for streams of this material in the same way as music, yet are not required to pay royalties on the written material of comedians and oralists. Spoken Giants argues that the intellectual property produced by comedians and oralists is presented on streaming platforms in the same manner as music and thus should be paid in a similar fashion.[3]

Copyright in the comedy world is very complex and traditionally regulated by industry norms.[4] Such norms enforce a “strict injunction against stealing jokes” as within this industry originality is valued highly and strongly impacts the reputation of a comedian.[5] However, with growing use of social media and accessibility to comedy performances, it is difficult to enforce penalties against those who steal jokes.[6] Pre-social media, industry-wide intolerance for appropriation of another’s work would lead a comedian to be shunned by the comedy community. However, on social media, comedy and other forms of spoken intellectual property can be shared by those outside the comedy community. Shunning and reputational harm will not pose such a threat to those whose audiences are found elsewhere. Because industry norms are no longer sufficient to regulate appropriation of intellectual property, copyright protection over written work is now sought after by comedians.

Comedians are increasingly demanding to be paid for their written material, beyond sound recording. Spoken Giants members have grown significantly since its creation, now representing household names such as Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Bob Hope, Jeff Foxworthy, and more. To progress their efforts, Spoken Giants approached several streaming platforms to negotiate royalty payments for the composition of spoken works.[7] According to Spoken Giants CEO, Jim King, they hope to achieve incremental growth of royalties instead of large sums from the beginning.[8] However, these demands have been met with backlash from streaming platforms. In November 2021, Sportify responded by removing the intellectual property of Spoken Giants artists from their library until they came to an agreement.[9]

Moving into 2022, an agreement between Spoken Giants and Spotify has still not been reached. This, however, has not stood in the way of growing comedian activism in effort to gain fair royalty payment for their work. In February 2022, Pandora was sued by several comedians and the estates of many, for their unlicensed use of protected work.[10] These civil complaints were filed by Word Collection, an organization similar to Spoken Giant, who claims that Pandora and SiriusXM intentionally infringed upon the copyrights of these comedians.

While the future is unclear for the composition rights of comedians and other spoken word authors, the decisions made by streaming platforms may damage their relationship with the comedy community in ways more costly than royalties could ever repay. 



[1] Spoken Giants, About Us,

[2] Id.

[3] SPoken Giants, Membership,

[4] Dotan Olier and Christopher Springman, Intellectual Property Norms in Stand Up Comedy (2010)

[5] Hannah Pham, Intellectual Property Norms in Stand-Up Comedy: When #FuckFuckJerry is Not Enough (2020)

[6] Id.

[7] Dan Reilly, Inside the Extremely Unfunny War Between Comedians and Spotify (2021),

[8] Id.

[9] Chris Willman, Are Spotify and the Comedy Community Headed into Battle? What’s Behind the Face-Off (2021),

[10] Winston Cho, Pandora Sued By Major Comedians Over Licensing Fees for Writing Jokes (2022),