Pandora fires back in comedians' copyright case, claiming comedy 'cartel' – Reuters

Comedian Robin Williams reacts after receiving the Stand Up Icon Award during the second annual 2012 Comedy Awards in New York April 28, 2012. REUTERS/Stephen Chernin
(Reuters) – Sirius XM's Pandora Media Inc wants to turn the tables on a group of prominent comedians and an affiliated performing rights organization that sued the online music service over royalties for their joke copyrights, accusing them of fixing prices and stifling competition.
Pandora said in counterclaims filed Thursday that WordCollections Inc has formed a "cartel" to monopolize comedian copyrights with the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin and artists including Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Engvall, and Ron White, upending years of industry practice.
A related Pandora filing said that if the comedians win, the company and other streaming services may have to remove comedy entirely.
The comedians' attorney said Friday that they were aware of the counterclaim and would "respond appropriately." An attorney for Pandora said he was not authorized to comment, and SiriusXM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The comedians sued Pandora in February, arguing they have not received a "fraction of a penny" from Pandora for streaming their material, and asked for millions of dollars each in damages.
The lawsuits said Pandora's licenses to the comedians' recordings do not include their underlying jokes, and that the company broke off negotiations with Word Collections over those rights last year.
Pandora responded Thursday that it had "always satisfied its copyright obligations to comedians" by paying millions to the owners of the recordings, which shared them with the comedians.
The company also alleged that Word Collections had consolidated comedians' "naturally competing rights" into a "monopolistic portfolio." It said that the organization has added the rights of several more major comedians to its portfolio including Billy Crystal, Sinbad and Milton Berle, and that streaming services will soon be unable to continue offering comedy at all without a blanket license from it.
Pandora said Word Collections has created "hold-up power" over services like Pandora that it can exploit by "dramatically increasing" the price it has to pay for comedy recordings.
The case is In re Pandora Media LLC Copyright Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:22-cv-00809.
For Pandora: Paul Fakler of Mayer Brown
For the comedians: Richard Busch of King & Ballow
Read more:
Robin Williams, George Carlin estates sue Pandora over copyrighted jokes
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Thomson Reuters
Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com
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