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Pandora’s claims about comedy rights agency dubbed “absurd”

By | Published on Friday 26 August 2022


Legal reps for an agency that represents the rights of comedians have hit out at claims made against the company by Pandora, ahead of a hearing next week in relation to a flurry of lawsuits filed by comedy-makers against the streaming service.

Lewis Black, Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Engvall and Ron White, the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin, and – as of this week – George Lopez have all sued Pandora over allegations that the digital firm has failed to license all the rights in the comedy performances that it makes available to stream.

Although Pandora has deals with the labels and distributors which manage the recordings of those comedians’ routines, it doesn’t have any licences covering the actual material contained in said routines. Obviously with music, Pandora has two sets of licences, one from the record industry covering recording rights, and one for the music publishing sector to cover the rights in the songs contained in those recordings. But with comedy, only one set of licences has been secured.

Until recently, streaming services would have had to contact each individual comedian to secure the rights to their actual material, comedians not generally having publishers, and the comedy community not having a collecting society. However, in the US at least, two agencies have now set up shop to represent the rights of comedians and other performers in their routines and scripts.

One of those agencies is Word Collections, which represents all of the comedians who are suing Pandora. In their response to those lawsuits, Pandora was pretty disparaging of Word Collections. None of the plaintiff comedians had ever complained before about their performances being streamed, Pandora argued, and there was only a dispute now because Word Collections had created one.

“Word Collections’ true business model is not that of a benign licensing agent or an advocate for comedians’ intellectual property rights”, Pandora said in a legal filing back in May, “it is that of a cartel leader”.

Of course, while it’s true that Pandora has been streaming comedy content without complaint from any comedians for years – while also paying them recording royalties – Word Collections would likely argue that that didn’t mean the comedy-makers were knowingly foregoing any royalties they were owed in relation to their material. In most cases they just didn’t realise such royalties were due.

In response to Pandora’s claims that Word Collections is basically a comedy cartel, the firm’s lawyers say, according to Law360: “Pandora paints an absurd picture of Word Collections as a ringleader of a price-fixing cartel of comedians and as a monopolist that is somehow capable of extracting supra-competitive royalties from the likes of Pandora”.

Those claims, they add, are “nothing more than a backdoor attempt to dismiss copyright claims to which they have no valid defence”, and are basically part of a bid by the digital business to “dissolve Word Collections and leave comedians to fend for themselves – ie be steamrolled by Pandora”.

Those lawyers are expected to ask the judge overseeing the comedians’ lawsuits to entirely throw out Pandora’s cartel claims during a hearing that’s due to take place on Monday.