In what appears to be a groundbreaking clash between the legacy of artistic creation and the exponential growth of AI, the estate of comedy legend George Carlin has launched a legal salvo against the creators of an AI-generated ‘comedy special’ that mimics the late comedian’s iconic voice and style.
The lawsuit, filed in California Federal Court, accuses the makers of “George Carlin: I’m glad I’m dead,” a video uploaded by the Dudesy channel on YouTube, of committing an egregious act of copyright infringement and a violation of Carlin’s right to publicity.
The hour-long video showcases a series of AI-generated images while an uncannily similar voice to the comedian delves into familiar territories of religion and politics, and even Carlin’s own death. This legal battle underscores the emerging complexities surrounding AI in creative industries, a contentious issue that was one of the catalysts behind a significant writers’ strike in Hollywood last year, primarily over the studios’ adoption of AI for scriptwriting.
AI has resurrected George Carlin to make us laugh once more.
And it’s terrifying. pic.twitter.com/I4TlMT6KYd
— Vanessa Harris (@technologypoet) January 12, 2024
“Defendants’ AI-generated ‘George Carlin Special’ is not a creative work. It is a piece of computer-generated clickbait which detracts from the value of Carlin’s comedic works and harms his reputation,” reads the complaint. “It is a casual theft of a great American artist’s work.”
The Dudesy YouTube channel, operated by comedian Will Sasso and writer Chad Kultgen, is at the heart of this controversy. Both, along with several unnamed individuals involved in crafting the video and developing the AI technology, find themselves listed as defendants. In response to the uproar, Sasso, on a podcast, stressed that the AI rendition was far from a replacement of the real comedic genius.
“I learned that AI cannot replace Geroge Carlin and therefore AI cannot replace me and my pal Chad,” said Sasso. “It is interesting how heated people get about it.”
Kultgen, in the same episode, touched upon the essence of the controversy: unlike previous AI experiments that merely mimicked Carlin’s voice, this creation ventured into reproducing an hour-long standup routine, effectively claiming the capability to replicate the art form itself.
“The other ones, it was just ‘look, we can kind of mimic his voice.’ This isn’t just mimicking that, it’s taking the art form itself, an hour-long of standup comedy, and saying ‘I can do the art form as well.”
Kelly Carlin, the daughter of George Carlin, expressed her disdain and disappointment in a poignant statement.
“”I understand and share the desire for more George Carlin. I, too, want more time with my father. But it is ridiculous to proclaim he has been ‘resurrected’ with AI,” she said, adding “The ‘George Carlin’ in that video is not the beautiful human who defined his generation and raised me with love. It is a poorly-executed facsimile cobbled together by unscrupulous individuals to capitalize on the extraordinary goodwill my father established with his adoring fanbase.”
The estate’s attorney, Josh Schiller, paints a grim picture of the potential future with AI, warning of it becoming a tool for bad-faith actors to supplant creative expression, exploit existing works, and profiteer at the expense of genuine creators.