3 Count: Serious Comedy

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1: Pandora Sued By Major Comedians Over Licensing Fees For Writing Jokes

First off today, Winston Cho at The Hollywood Reporter Esquire reports that Pandora has been sued by a group of comedians and their estates claiming that the streaming service has been streaming their performances but not paying all the royalties owed.

The lawsuit was filed by the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin. They are joined by living comedians Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Engvall and Ron White. They claim that Pandora has streamed their performances for some time, but have only been paying royalties on the audio recording, not the composition of the work.

According to the comics, the issue is intentional and points to Security and Exchange Commission filings by the company that cautioned it may lose access to comedy material due to a lack of license. One issue is that comics do not have a collective licensing group similar to ASCAP or BMI for musicians, making such licensing much more difficult.

2: Photographer Fires Back in Supreme Court Fight Over Warhol Works

Next up today, Blake Brittain at Reuters reports that photographer Lynn Goldsmith is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject an appeal by the Andy Warhol estate that would overturn a major victory she scored in the lower courts.

Goldsmith sued the estate over a series of paintings that Warhol did based upon photographs she took of the artist Prince. Though Goldsmith had licensed one of the images to be used, Warhol made an entire series based on her work, and that only became knowledge after Prince’s death in 2016. This prompted Goldsmith to file a lawsuit that year.

However, the lower court ruled against Goldsmith, saying that Warhol made a fair use of her work. That was overturned by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which is what the Warhol estate is appealing now. In her response to that appeal, Goldsmith says that fears of the negative impact of the ruling are overblown and that the Prince work was fundamentally different from other artistic endeavors Warhol made.

Finally today, Kyle Jahner at Bloomberg Law reports that the original designers of The Game of Life are attempting to reclaim the copyright to their creation. However, in doing so, they are stepping into a major circuit split that could determine the fate of many older, but still very valuable, works.

The issue centers on the “instance and expense” rule, which was crafted by a court in the 1960s. It found that, if a person or company provided the impetus and funding for an independent contractor, they would own the final copyright. That rule was done away with in 1976 with the new copyright act, but has remained a point of contention in copyright termination battles as it’s unclear if it applies to pre-1976 works.

Copyright termination allows artists and creators, including independent contractors, to reclaim rights to works that they previously signed away. However, copyright termination does not apply in cases of work for hire. The various judicial circuits are split on whether this rule applies to copyright termination and the First Circuit, where the case is unfolding, has maintained the previous rule.

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