George Carlin estate sues AI comedy creators using his likeness

Earlier this month the tragically named AI comedy platform Dudesy presented a one-hour standup routine with an AI-generated George Carlin. In addition to not obtaining any legal rights to Carlin’s name and likeness, Dudesy further insulted Carlin’s comedic genius by having the set begin with perhaps the most unfunny opener in history: “I listened to all of George Carlin’s material and did my best to imitate his voice, cadence and attitude.” A real zinger. At the time I expressed my hope that the George Carlin Estate had all their ducks in a row regarding rights and could have this heresy shut down. Well, consider the ducks officially rowed. His estate has filed a lawsuit against Dudesy for violating copyright law and intellectual property, and have asked for the immediate removal of the AI imposter:

The estate of George Carlin has filed a lawsuit against the media company behind a fake hour long comedy special that purportedly uses artificial intelligence to recreate the late standup comic’s style and material.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday asks that a judge order the podcast outlet, Dudesy, to immediately take down the audio special, “George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead,” in which a synthesis of Carlin, who died in 2008, delivers commentary on current events.

Carlin’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, said in a statement that the work is “a poorly-executed facsimile cobbled together by unscrupulous individuals to capitalize on the extraordinary goodwill my father established with his adoring fanbase.”

The Carlin estate and its executor, Jerold Hamza, are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which alleges violations of Carlin’s right of publicity and copyright. The named defendants are Dudesy and podcast hosts Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen.

“None of the Defendants had permission to use Carlin’s likeness for the AI-generated ‘George Carlin Special,’ nor did they have a license to use any of the late comedian’s copyrighted materials,” the lawsuit says.

The defendants have not filed a response to the lawsuit and it was not clear whether they have retained an attorney. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

At the beginning of the special posted on YouTube on Jan. 9, a voiceover identifying itself as the AI engine used by Dudesy says it listened to the comic’s 50 years of material and “did my best to imitate his voice, cadence and attitude as well as the subject matter I think would have interested him today.”

The plaintiffs say if that was in fact how it was created — and some listeners have doubted its stated origins — it means Carlin’s copyright was violated.

The company, as it often does on similar projects, also released a podcast episode with Sasso and Kultgen introducing and commenting on the mock Carlin.

“What we just listened to, was that passable,” Kultgen says in a section of the episode cited in the lawsuit.

“Yeah, that sounded exactly like George Carlin,” Sasso responds.

The lawsuit is among the first in what is likely to be an increasing number of major legal moves made to fight the regenerated use of celebrity images and likenesses.

The AI issue was a major sticking point in the resolution of last year’s Hollywood writers and actors strikes.

Josh Schiller, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that the “case is not just about AI, it’s about the humans that use AI to violate the law, infringe on intellectual property rights, and flout common decency.”

[From USA Today]

What on earth were the Dudsey dudes thinking? It’s like they were asking to be sued. Whether they thought no one would be paying attention to George Carlin (not likely, he’s a legend) or not paying attention to them (more likely), they’ve just learned some valuable lessons the hard, expensive way. I only wish we could have seen their faces when reading this: “Carlin’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, said in a statement that the work is ‘a poorly-executed facsimile cobbled together by unscrupulous individuals to capitalize on the extraordinary goodwill my father established with his adoring fanbase.’” Man, I would not want to play a game of Scrabble against Kelly Carlin! Not surprising, though, given her family’s love of words and language, as George told The Harvard Crimson in 1978:

His parents and grandparents were fascinated with words and poetics, and fostered that same affinity in their family. “I’m sure there’s cellular truth to this, too,” Carlin interjects, “but my mother’s father was an original New York cop, and he had written out long-hand all of Shakespeare’s written works — he quizzed my mother at the dinner table. And my mother was always careful to let us know how we could free ourselves through expression.”

I remember hearing George Carlin on a late night show talk about his grandfather having handwritten Shakespeare, just because he loved it. While Carlin’s work differed from The Bard in style and substance, I still see a link. There’s a rhythm to Carlin’s sets, a musicality, and above all an understanding and reverence of language. Dudesy has no idea what they’ve stepped into.

Photos credit: John Atashian / Avalon

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