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What could the George Carlin AI lawsuit mean for other artists?

The growing use – and misuse — of artificial intelligence (AI) has quickly become a concern for performers in all parts of the entertainment industry. For example, it was one of the major issues in the recent SAG-AFTRA strike. AI gives people and companies the ability to put virtually any word in someone’s mouth without their permission – potentially even after they’ve died. This reality can – and has already been – the subject of legal actions.

One such case was recently settled in the plaintiff’s favor. Readers may remember that the estate of iconic comedian George Carlin filed a lawsuit against the creators of a YouTube special called George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead. Using AI, they took “thousands of hours of George Carlin’s original, copyrighted routines” and fed them into an “AI machine” to create a show written by them. In it, their version of Carlin discussed a multitude of subjects that become topical after he died in 2008 (including AI).

A ”poorly executed facsimile”

The lawsuit claimed that the show “has no comedic or creative value absent its self-proclaimed connection with George Carlin,” so it doesn’t fall under First Amendment protections. Further it argued that the defendants violated the comedian’s “right of publicity” by using his name and likeness to promote the work. The suit sought the program’s removal from YouTube as well as damages. The comedian’s daughter Kelly Carlin stated at the time that it was “a poorly executed facsimile cobbled together by unscrupulous individuals.”

The settlement

Now, the estate has announced that it has reached a settlement with the creators of the program in which they agreed to remove it from all of their platforms. They also are banned from using the comedian’s voice, image or likeness in the future. Kelly Carlin stated that while she was grateful that the suit was resolved quickly and amicably, “it is a shame that this happened at all, I hope this case serves as a warning about the dangers posed by AI technologies and the need for appropriate safeguards not just for artists and creatives, but every human on Earth.”

As AI technology becomes increasingly sophisticated and available, there are only to be more and more lawsuits similar to this one. Since both federal and state laws are still catching up with the technology – and probably will be for some time – it’s critical to have experienced legal guidance to protect your rights, and those of loved ones who aren’t around any longer to protect themselves, in the event that AI activity has infringed upon likenesses or work in ways that are unacceptable.