George Carlin hasn’t had a big set since 2008’s “It’s Bad For Ya.” Passing away — or rather, dying — tends to do that for comics. But in the age of Coachella 2Pac and hologram Prince performances, it was only a matter of time before the comedic great’s sense of humor was exhumed for a special. There’s an hour-long extrapolation of Carlin’s material under the name “I’m Glad I’m Dead,” and the Carlin estate is less than enthused about it. From Bloomberg Law:
The estate of George Carlin sued a pair of podcasters for using artificial intelligence to create a script and voice imitating the late comedian for a new comedy routine, citing the right of publicity and copyright infringement.
Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen released their Carlin-based “I’m Glad I’m Dead” special on their Dudesy podcast on Jan. 9, the Thursday complaint in the US District Court for the Central District of California said. The defendants allegedly admitted to inputing thousands of hours of copyrighted Carlin material into an AI model to create the script and “fabricate a semblance of Carlin’s voice” to impermissibly imitate the comedian, who died in 2008.
You can find the imitation on YouTube:
The special begins with a disclaimer that paints the AI venture as no different than a human comedian doing an impression of a famous comedian. And, after repeatedly saying that they are NOT George Carlin, they begin the set by inviting the viewer to give a warm welcome to George Carlin. Pick a battle, dude.
If you give the first few minutes a listen without knowing the source, you’d think that someone found an unreleased Carlin special in his basement. The line “You can’t thank [God] for curing your cancer when he was the one that gave it to you in the first place” is very on brand.
If a person styled as George Carlin were to parody his oeuvre, I doubt it would trigger these copyright violations — Weird Al Yankovic would be in a lot more legal trouble otherwise. But it is less clear if the special violates Carlin’s right to publicity under California law. Then again, considering that the special is the fruit of thousands of hours of Carlin material, I’m not sure who — human or otherwise — would be in a better position to extrapolate what the late comedian would have thought about the Trump campaign.
If the case makes it all the way to trial, the outcome could set the standard for using AI for artistic purposes. For anyone else who can’t afford a legal team to clarify the matter, either let the man rest in peace or pay the family first. Follow protocol, people.
George Carlin Estate Files Publicity Rights Suit Over AI Routine [Bloomberg Law]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.