Lewis Black is suing Pandora in another lawsuit alleging comedian copyright infringement – The Hollywood Reporter


Lewis Black is suing Pandora in another lawsuit alleging comedian copyright infringement - The Hollywood Reporter

Pandora faced another lawsuit from a comedian, who accused the streamer of bringing artists down by failing to obtain the proper copyrights to stream their work – this time from Lewis Black. According to a complaint filed Thursday in California federal court, Pandora “took and exploited his works to make money for themselves, even though they knew they had no license and had not and would not pay royalties.”

The lawsuit is the latest in an escalating feud between streamers and comedians pushing to transform the compensation landscape amid a boom in the popularity of spoken-word content. They put forth novel licensing theories, arguing that they should be paid for writing their jokes, much like musicians receive royalties for composing song lyrics.

Black’s lawsuit alleges that Pandora knowingly disregarded its obligation to ensure proper copyrights. “Pandora did what most Goliaths do: they chose to infringe now to ensure they have this very valuable intellectual property on their platform to remain competitive and deal with the consequences later,” writes Richard Busch, partner at King & Ballow, representing Black, in the complaint. “Later is now.”

Pandora admitted in financial filings with the Security and Exchange Commission from 2011 to 2017 that it was at risk of losing its comedy content because it didn’t have the proper licenses to stream the works, according to the lawsuit. Pandora acknowledged that it “could be subject to substantial liability for copyright infringement and may no longer be able to operate under it [their] existing permit system.” The concession was removed after Pandora was acquired by SiriusXM in 2019.

“Mr. Black once famously quipped in the wake of the Enron scandal, ‘You don’t want another Enron? Here’s your law: if a company can’t explain in one sentence what it’s doing, it’s illegal.’ Exactly the same applies here : If a company cannot explain in one sentence how it is licensed to use copyrighted works, it is copyright infringement,” the complaint reads.

Black is demanding more than $10 million over Pandora, which allegedly illegally streamed 68 of his works.

Pandora has claimed that the current compensation system is legal under copyright law. In a countersuit alleging antitrust violations, it alleged that “Word Collections consolidated the naturally competing rights of its comedians into a monopolistic portfolio and priced the only license available for those rights to ensure the services were not an alternative to its.” have a blanket license for their entire portfolio.”

Pieces of music are subject to two copyrights – one for the sound recording and another for the underlying written music. Streaming services like Pandora and Spotify pay royalties to the respective copyright holders.

However, for spoken word recordings, which include comic book performances, streaming services only pay for the recording and not for the composition itself, in this case comedy writing. Word Collection, which aims to position itself as a comics collection group similar to ASCAP for composers, wants to change that. His clients include the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin, who sued Pandora in February.

One of the reasons spoken word artists are not compensated like musicians is that since the 1930s there have been performing rights organizations like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC to represent songwriters, while performing rights organizations for spoken word artists like Spoken Giants and Word Collection this have only existed since 2019.

“They shoot first and then aim — that’s how tech companies work,” said Jeff Price, managing director of Word Collections. “They get caught and pay the fine. They use their money to make it difficult and expensive for comedians to get paid.”

Price continued, “Comedians are looking for the companies that use their stuff to comply with the law – license the copyrights and make the payments. Nobody is asking them to reinvent the wheel.”

Pandora and SiriusXM did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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