The special — titled George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead — premiered on YouTube earlier this month on a channel for Dudesy, a self-described “first-of-its-kind comedy podcast” featuring an AI technology named “Dudesy AI,” which writes and creates content based on the humor of its two hosts, Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen. The special begins with a disclaimer that it is “not George Carlin,” but an “impersonation of George Carlin” developed by listening to “all of George Carlin’s material,” the same approach an actual “human impressionist” would use.
The new lawsuit from Carlin’s estate, though, alleges that by feeding the comedian’s material into Dudesy AI, Sasso and Kultgen made “unauthorized copies” of original standup routines — which are copyrighted works owned by the estate — without consent or compensation. The suit also alleges that the use of Carlin’s name and likeness to promote the special constitutes a violation of right of publicity laws.
“In short, 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,” the complaint states, per The Hollywood Reporter.
The complaint seeks unspecified damages, as well as the immediate removal of the special. Commenting on the case, Carlin’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, said: “We have to draw a line in the sand. This is going to be a fight on every front, with entertainment at the center.”
On Twitter, Kelly Carlin even offered a warning to the children of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, saying: “They’re coming for you next.” In the same post, she wrote that the special “has arrogantly stepped over a line in the world of comedy today that will surely affect dead artists and their estates now.”
Of note is the fact that the special was not monetized. Nevertheless, Carlin’s estate alleges that its popularity can boost Sasso’s and Kultgen’s popularity as content-creators, thus enriching them.
Last year, between Hollywood strikes, new Beatles songs, and more, AI technology dominated headlines, and that trend is sure to continue. Yet, this lawsuit constitutes some of the first high-profile litigation of the unlicensed use of a dead celebrity’s work or likeness.
Carlin’s estate is anticipating that the lawsuit could be met with a First Amendment defense, but feels that the special “has no comedic or creative value absent its self-proclaimed connection with George Carlin” and that the AI-generated impersonation fails to “satirize him as a performer or offer an independent critique of society.”
For more on the actual Carlin, you can check out the 2022 documentary on his life by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio.
Thank you all for your support regarding this AI bot (?) that has arrogantly stepped over a line in the world of comedy today that will surely affect dead artists and their estates now. Hey @zeldawilliams @MelRivers @GarryShandling we should talk. They’re coming for you next.
— Kelly Carlin (@kelly_carlin) January 11, 2024