Pandora ring

Estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin suing Pandora for comedy rights

Spotify isn’t the only streaming service facing a dispute with comedians. Both Puck and The edge have learned that the Estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin have sued SiriusXM’s Pandora for allegedly airing the comedy legends’ jokes without a full license. Representatives for the deceased comedians claim that Pandora only has the licenses to broadcast the recordings, not the jokes themselves – and that it supposedly has “no copyright”.

Williams’ estate is seeking $4.1 million in damages for copyright infringement, while Carlin’s is seeking $8.4 million. Comedians Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Engvall and Ron White also filed suit, claiming Pandora failed to provide a “fraction of a dime” for their work.

The estates say Pandora admitted to inappropriate licensing in SEC filings between 2011 and 2017, before the SiriusXM acquisition. In those filings, the service warned investors that it could not guarantee that the company would avoid “additional licensing costs” from rights groups for spoken comedy. However, companies frequently include risk alerts like this in filings, regardless of their licensing intentions.

We asked SiriusXM for comment. Pandora is no stranger to licensing battles. He paid $90 million in 2015 to settle a fight over allegations he used a loophole to play pre-1972 songs without paying tags, and was sued in 2019 for allegedly posting lyrics by Rage Against the Machine and Tom Petty without permission. But the comedy licensing issues haven’t had a firm test in court, according to Puckand the outcome of the Pandora case could affect how Spotify and other services pay comedians for their work.

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