After a widespread outcry, the estate of the late comedian George Carlin is suing the people behind a so-called AI-generated "comedy special" for using the artist's likeness without consent.
Earlier this month, an outfit called Dudesy AI posted an hour-long standup routine titled "George Carlin: I'm Glad I'm Dead." Run by "Mad TV" alum Will Sasso and podcaster Chad Kultgen, the duo claim they trained AI models on the comic's huge body of recorded work — though Ars Technica has cast doubt on that assertion — and in doing so, drew the wrath of Carlin's estate, which didn't approve any such use.
Controlled by his daughter Kelly Carlin and his longtime manager Jerry Hamza, the estate is alleging in a California lawsuit that Dudesy was not authorized to use "Carlin's original, copyrighted routines" to train its AI.
Along with not having consent to use those routines, Hamza and his attorneys have also charged Sasso and Kultgen with misrepresenting Carlin's work and attempting to profit off of his "name, reputation, and likeness."
Indeed, in the description of the YouTube video in question, there are links to all kinds of Dudesy-related monetization, from the duo's merch store to their Patreon.
Anticipating First Amendment arguments claiming Dudesy's unfunny approximation falls under "fair use" law, the suit says that the video "has no comedic or creative value absent its self-proclaimed connection with George Carlin" and does not "satirize him as a performer or offer an independent critique of society."
Back when Dudesy first dropped its middling comedic facsimile, the comedian's daughter, who is also an author and podcaster, spoke out online and to Futurism to decry the "special" and AI imitations in general.
"We are clearly at the beginning of a new era of the lack of respect and autonomy of artists by corporations and other entities that want to use source material without permission," Carlin told us in an email. "This bastardization of existing comedic material feels like a very sad day for the art form, and all human expression."
In an exchange following news of the lawsuit, Carlin told Futurism that she's been in touch with the Screen Actors Guild about AI legislation that could strengthen cases like this one — but as Hamza, her dad's former manager and the co-owner of the estate, told Hollywood Reporter, there are already laws in place that could favor the suit as is.
"In order to accomplish what they did, they needed to, without permission, take a reputation, a body of work, a voice and a likeness and use it to draw attention to themselves," he told the magazine. "It raises issues of civil and criminal liability under both California and federal statutes regulating rights of publicity and copyright."
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