SiriusXM’s Pandora Sued for Allegedly Failing to License Comedy Works by Robin Williams, George Carlin, Others

Lawsuits seek $41.55 million in copyright-infringement damages from audio streamer

Pandora lawsuits - Robin Williams George Carlin

Pandora, the digital music platform owned by SiriusXM, is ripping off comedians by streaming their recordings without properly licensing the underlying works — and has been doing so for years, according to a series of new lawsuits.

On Monday, L.A. law firm King & Ballow filed copyright-infringement lawsuits against Pandora on behalf of five comedians or their estates: Robin Williams, George Carlin, Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Engvall and Ron White. Each are represented by digital rights management and collection agency Word Collections.

“For years… Pandora has illegally made reproductions and digital broadcasts on its servers and provided streaming access to its users without a proper public performance license and, when applicable, a reproduction right license,” the lawsuits allege.

A rep for SiriusXM declined to comment.

With respect to licensing agreements, stand-up comedians have contended that they should be treated like singer-songwriters, earning a separate royalty for the underlying “literary work” in addition to the performance of it.

The complaints against Pandora allege that each plaintiff is entitled to the “maximum amount of statutory damages,” which is $150,000 per copyrighted work for each act of copyright infringement. In total, the five lawsuits seek $41.55 million in damages from Pandora.

Pandora “knew or should have known that the harm caused by its repeated unlicensed public performance of the Works over the Internet was aimed at comedy writers and comedy publishers,” each lawsuit states.

In addition, Pandora’s “failure to obtain the necessary licenses for the Works, or pay royalties, but to nonetheless infringe by exploiting the Works, has been willful,” the complaints allege. They cite Pandora’s “Risk Factors” disclosures in SEC 10-K filings from 2011-17 (prior to its acquisition by SiriusXM) in which it acknowledges that it distributes spoken-word comedy content “absent a specific license from any [] performing rights organization” and that it never obtained a license for the underlying literary works for those sound recordings. In the filings, Pandora also admitted that it “could be subject to significant liability for copyright infringement and may no longer be able to operate under [the company’s] existing licensing regime.”

“While Carlin would have been thrilled for his Works to live on through valid licenses and payments, he would have seven dirty words to say about Pandora’s actions and willful copyright infringement no doubt,” says the suit on behalf of Main Sequence, which manages George Carlin’s estate.

The lawsuits against Pandora were filed Feb. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Each of the plaintiffs is repped by King & Ballow partner Richard Busch.

Spotify has faced the same kind of issue — and last fall, the streaming service removed multiple comedy albums, evidently over licensing disputes. Those included works by Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney, Dave Attell, Mike Birbiglia, Chad Daniels, Tom Segura, Jeff Foxworthy, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Jeff Dunham, Larry the Cable Guy, Patton Oswalt, Bob Newhart, Paula Poundstone, Robin Williams, Amy Schumer and Lisa Lampanelli.