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Comedians' Pandora lawsuits could upend spoken-word copyrights

Tim Baysinger
Aug 24, 2022
Illustration of a gavel on a sounding board with the copyright symbol on it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A brewing legal battle between comedians and Pandora could change how royalties are paid out for spoken-word content like comedy and podcasting.

Why it matters: Spoken-word content has generally been cheaper to license for audio streaming services compared to music, which enjoys both recorded and publishing copyrights.

  • Comedians are now arguing that they should also get publishing copyrights.

Driving the news: George Lopez joined a growing list of comedians who have sued Pandora, claiming the company streamed his albums without paying him royalties or getting the proper licenses.

  • "Pandora not only did not obtain any license for the Works but admitted that it did not do so in SEC filings, and admitted that it would very likely face copyright infringement liability as a result," said the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles on Tuesday and obtained by Axios.
  • "But 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."
  • Lopez is asking for $5.5 million in damages.

Yes, and: Other comedians suing Pandora include Lewis Black, Andrew Dice Clay and the estates of George Carlin and Robin Williams.

The other side: Pandora has previously counterclaimed that these lawsuits are an attempt to change decades of longstanding precedence and would be "upending a functioning marketplace and imposing the dysfunction of music licensing onto comedy."

  • Pandora declined to comment.

What's next: Preliminary hearings are set to begin in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles at the end of this month, TheWrap reports.

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