Over 50 years ago, the late and great George Carlin listed off the seven words you couldn’t say on television. Based on a lawsuit from the iconic comedian’s estate filed in federal court in California today, at least two of those words may apply to the creators of an AI generated special that uses Carlin’s style and voice to a 2024 effect.
AKA: “a bastardization of Carlin’s real work,” the copyright infringement complaint says.
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“Defendants’ AI-generated “George Carlin Special” is not a creative work,” it goes on to exclaim. “It is a piece of computer-generated click-bait which detracts from the value of Carlin’s comedic works and harms his reputation.”
“Defendants sought to capitalize on the name, reputation, and likeness of George Carlin in creating, promoting, and distributing the Dudesy Special and using generated images of Carlin, Carlin’s voice, and images designed to evoke Carlin’s presence on a stage,” states the filing, put in the federal docket in California Thursday against podcast hosts Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen and a handful of John Does.
Dropped online on January 9 on YouTube the just over one hour George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead special openly claims that “for the next hour I’ll be doing my best George Carlin impersonation just like a human being would. I tried to capture his iconic style to tackle the topics I think the comedy legend would be talking about today.”
Packed with hackneyed AI generated graphs, the special tries to tackle contemporary topics such as Reality TV, Trump and the election and even AI itself. At the same time, while trying to put its best Carlin out there, the just over one-hour special from “Dudesy …comedy AI” tries to sidestep its grafting of copyrighted material from Carlin, who died in 2008, by listening “to all of George Carlin’s material and did my best to imitate his voice, cadence and attitude.” Stressing the “impersonation” aspect of the result, George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead is not a great or even good impersonation of the legend, but it gets the job done if you aren’t paying close attention.
In no small sense, and with the deep digital grey zone that AI floats in legally at present, that’s the problem says Carlin’s estate and attorneys at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP.
Asserting the Dudesy Carlin “has no comedic or creative value,” the suit actually declares that the AI version “misrepresents Carlin’s art.” It also laments that Sasso and Kultgen skirted over established copyright laws to indulge in the “casual theft of a great American artist’s work.”
“Defendants must be held accountable for adding new, fake content to the canon of work associated with Carlin without his permission (or that of his estate),” the damages and injunction seeking action says.
In a precursor to today’s lawsuit for various damages, the comedian’s daughter Kelly Carlin took aim at the Dudesy Carlin almost as soon as it appeared online. In a January 10 thread, as Deadline noted at the time, the younger Carlin, who holds a large chunk of her father’s estate, wrote:
My statement regarding the AI generated George Carlin special: My dad spent a lifetime perfecting his craft from his very human life, brain and imagination. No machine will ever replace his genius. These AI generated products are clever attempts at trying to recreate a mind…1/3
— Kelly Carlin (@kelly_carlin) January 11, 2024
BTW: For your reference, the real George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine from 1972 are, in order, “sh*t, p*ss, f*ck, c*nt, c*cks*cker, mother*cker and t*ts.” Use your non-AI generated imagination to think which ones would apply in this situation.
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