The estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin have sued Pandora, alleging that the late comedians’ pranks are being streamed without legal authorization. Andrew Dice Clay, Ron White, and Bill Engvall have also filed claims, alleging that they were paid “not a fraction of a cent” for their work as a result of Pandora’s “deliberate” wrongdoings.
Comedians compete for recognition of two copyrights to a comedy work, according to puck: one for composing a joke and the other for recording it. Companies typically just purchase licenses for the recordings, not the jokes themselves. Puck adds out that the idea that streamers require both has never been put to the test in court, so it’s unclear whether Pandora is correct (although the cases claim Pandora “obtained no copyright at all”). Last year’s licensing battle on Spotify, which resulted in the removal of work by Kevin Hart, John Mulaney, and Tiffany Haddish, was based on the same principle. If the legal case against Pandora is successful, it is possible that other services will be next.
“Pandora “has not obtained a copyright” for the use of the comedians’ material, according to the claims. Pandora anticipated a case like this. The comedians claim that Pandora has “admitted” not having obtained proper licenses on deposits with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), listing it as a risk that it does not hold a “specific performance rights organization license” for spoken word comedy and may be “subject to substantial liability for copyright infringement and may no longer be able to operate under [their] existing licensing system.”
Pandora “acquired listeners, subscribers, and market share with full knowledge that it did not license and pay royalties for the Works,” according to the lawsuits, and used the content in question “to increase its share price and help them reorganize.” Sirius XM bought Pandora for $3.5 billion in 2018.
For the claimed copyright violation, Williams’ estate is seeking $4.1 million in damages, while Carlin’s estate is seeking $8.4 million. Pandora paid $90 million in 2015 for the right to stream songs released before 1972 without paying royalties. In 2019, it was sued again for showing lyrics by Tom Petty, Rage Against the Machine, and Weezer without permission.