The George Carlin estate and Andrew Dice Clay are also lodging copyright suits against the streaming service, saying they don’t actually have the copyrights to play these comedians’ works.
Since streaming service Spotify is awash in terrible headlines lately, they may be pleased to see their pretty much vanquished competitor Pandora taking up the news cycle instead. But they should not be pleased, because the latest legal action against Pandora may well be a dry run for a similar action against Spotify. The Verge reports that Robin Williams’ estate is suing Pandora for copyright infringement, alleging Pandora does not really hold the rights to Williams’ standup albums on the platform.
Also suing Pandora in parallel lawsuits are the estate of the late George Carlin, and living comedians Andrew Dice Clay, and Bill Engvall.
“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,” the comics’ attorney Richard Busch told the Hollywood Reporter. “Later is now.”
The dispute here is that there are two kinds of copyrights. Consider the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell. If I streamed it on Pandora, she would get a (microscopic) payout because it’s her song. But if I streamed the Amy Grant or Counting Crows cover version, Joni would still get a payout because she wrote it. The recording itself and the written material are two separate copyrights, and it has been this way since long before streaming music existed.
Now the comedians are arguing the same applies to them. They feel they are owed not just for the recording, but for the written comedy material itself.
That may all sound esoteric, but the lawsuit claims Pandora knew this all along, and intentionally buried it before Sirius XM bought them up in 2018. Per the Hollywood Reporter, “In financial filings to the Security and Exchange Commission from 2011 to 2017, Pandora conceded that it was at risk of losing its comedy content because it doesn’t have licenses from rights organizations to stream the works. It admitted that it could be subject to significant liability for copyright infringement and that it may no longer be able to operate under the existing licensing regime.”
Williams’ estate is seeking $4.1 million in damages, and Carlin’s estate seeks $8.4 million, according to the Verge.
Image: Touchstone Pictures