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The estate of the George Carlin is settling a lawsuit against two podcasters who used generative AI to create a one-hour comedy special featuring the style and voice of the late comedian in the latest battle by artists and writers to protect copyrights and trademarks from the emerging technology.

The creators of the Dudesy podcast in January posted the audio event, “George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead,” on their YouTube channel, which featured a synthesized voice of the comedian commenting on current events. At the same time, Dudesy’s creators, Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen, offered a companion Dudesy podcast commenting on the special and offering clips from it.

The Carlin estate two weeks later filed a lawsuit against Dudesy and both Sasso and Kultgen, accusing them of copyright infringement for using the standup comic’s voice and some of his copyrighted material without permission.

In the proposed settlement filed this week in a U.S. District Court in California, Sasso and Kultgen agreed to permanently take down the special and never to show it again on platforms they control and to never again use Carlin’s image or voice on the Dudesy podcast or anywhere else without the estate’s written approval.

In addition, third parties using the Carlin special also would violate the order, though Dudesy and its creators wouldn’t be held responsible. The settlement is awaiting the judge’s final approval.

A Shot Across the Bow

The settlement essentially gives Carlin’s estate everything it was looking for. Both Carlin’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, and the estate’s lawyer, Joshua Schiller, said the lawsuit should serve as a cautionary tale for others thinking of using AI technology in a similar manner.

“While 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,” Kelly Carlin said in a statement, noting that Sasso and Kultgen swiftly took down the video after complaints were raised.

Schiller said the goal was to settle the case as quickly as possible and get the video removed from the internet, not only to protect Carlin’s legacy but also to “shine a light on the reputational and intellectual property threat caused by this emerging technology.”

He also said the settlement is “a blueprint for resolving similar disputes going forward where an artist or public figure has their rights infringed by AI technology.”

Artists vs. Generative AI

The thorny issue of generative AI’s threat to copyrighted material and to writing, acting, directing and other such creative jobs has been roiling almost since the moment the technology burst onto the scene in late 2022, when OpenAI introduced ChatGPT.

Authors have sued OpenAI and other generative AI developers for using their material without permission to train their large language models (LLMs), and the use of generative AI in movies and televisions shows was a key sticking point in the months-long strikes among Hollywood actors and writers.

“In both strikes, union members feared that studios would effectively utilize generative AI to perform tasks that ordinarily would be performed by paid writers and actors,” the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology wrote in January.

Government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, also are trying to get a handle on how to police generative AI when it comes to copyrights.

Still, that hasn’t stopped AI companies from wooing Hollywood players, as noted by OpenAI executives, including CEO Sam Altman, last month meeting with studio executives, talent agencies and others in the business around the time of the Oscar Awards.

Dudesy Video ‘Not a Creative Work’

The lawsuit against Dudesy by Carlin’s estate encapsulates many of the arguments being made by writers and performers against generative AI. At the start of the disputed video, Sasso and Kultgen – using a voiceover identifying itself as Dudesy’s AI engine – said the system listened to five decades worth of Carlin’s material to “imitate his voice, cadence and attitude as well as the subject matter I think would have interested him today.”

According to the estate, both have declined to say what company built Dudesy’s AI engine.

Carlin’s estate in the lawsuit shot back, calling George Carlin the “dean of counterculture comedians” and saying the “defendants’ AI-generated ‘George Carlin Special’ is not a creative work. It is a piece of computer-generated click-bait which detracts from the value of Carlin’s comedic works and harms his reputation. It is a casual theft of a great American artist’s work.”

By detailing the use of Carlin’s material to train the AI engine, Sasso and Kultgen admitted that they “input thousands of hours of George Carlin’s original, copyrighted routines to an AI machine that Defendants operate to fabricate a semblance of Carlin’s voice and generate a Carlin stand-up comedy routine,” the estate argued.

Carlin died in 2008.

The plaintiffs also noted that before airing the George Carlin special, Dudesy had created a similar one-house special that used an AI-generated depiction of former NFL quarterback Tom Brady performing a standup comedy routing, adding that even though Dudesy took down the video after Brady threatened to sue, it continues to be available on other platforms.