Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Comedians' Suit Against Pandora Is No Joke!
According to Rolling Stone Magazine, the estates of some comedians, as well as some comedians who are still alive, are suing Pandora for breach of copyright. Robin Williams' estate is seeking over $4 million; George Carlins' estate is seeking $8.4 million. All together, five comedians have filed suit seeking over $40 million collectively.
Rolling Stone quotes from the complaint:
While it is commonplace in the music industry for companies like Pandora to enter into public performance licensing agreements with performance rights organizations like BMI and ASCAP for musical compositions, these entities do not license literary works. Therefore, it was the responsibility of Pandora to seek out the copyright owners and obtain valid public performance licenses.
The comedians' record labels have shared their recordings on Pandora. However, the comedians claim, the recordings are separate from the jokes, which remain the intellectual property of their creators. As Variety explains here, the comedians claim "that they should be treated like singer-songwriters, earning a separate royalty for the underlying 'literary work' in addition to the performance of it."
Just a quick anecdote about Robin Williams. I saw him perform live stand-up in San Francisco. I think it must have been in the late 1980s. I went with a friend to a comedy club. At the end of the scheduled performances, the M.C. got up and said, "Hey, Robin Williams is here, and he wants to do a set. Do you all want to stick around and give him a listen?" It was late, but it was Robin Williams. We indicated our enthusiastic assent.
He was clearly excited to try out some material. He had more energy than the small space could contain. The material was raw. Most of the jokes didn't fly. He was sweating and agitated. After about ten minutes, the M.C. came back and, apologizing to Robin Williams, said that by city ordinance, he had to stop. I guess they were already past the time when comedy clubs were supposed to shut down. Robin Williams pleaded, could he do one more bit? The M.C. allowed it. It was Robin Williams. The last bit wasn't much better than the others, but he was trying so hard. He attempted to engage in "safe comedy" by placing a condom over the microphone. Edgy? In desperation, the club cut the lights and the mike. It seemed there was no other way to get him to stop.
It was not the best stand-up I've ever seen, but it was certainly the most memorable. I loved that he was still so eager for an audience, that he was still so hungry to create new comedy, and ultimately that he, by that time, rich beyond imagining, possessing iconic fame, was still so naked and vulnerable and pathetically desirous of our approval.
Watching Robin Williams cover himself in inglorious flop-sweat reminded me of Robert Musil's essay, Flypaper. Musil observes the moment when the flies stop struggling to escape the flypaper's grasp and relax a bit into their fate, freezing in ridiculous poses. "They no longer hold themselves up with all their might, but sink a little, and at that moment appear totally human." Never did I see anyone look more human than Robin Williams did as he utterly bombed in a San Francisco comedy club.
Next time you have a half hour free, remind me to tell you the moth joke.
Posted by: D A Jeremy Telman | Feb 21, 2022 12:14:29 PM
The copyrightability of jokes is questionable. They are typically considered too short to be copyrightable.
Posted by: Guest | Feb 21, 2022 5:25:51 AM