Pandora loses antitrust fight with comedians over comedy ‘cartel’


By Blake Brittain

(Reuters) -A Los Angeles federal judge on Wednesday dismissed Pandora Media’s antitrust case against a group of comedians who earlier sued the internet radio station for copyright infringement, including Lewis Black, members of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and the estates of Robin Williams and George Carlin.

Pandora, which is owned by SiriusXM, had claimed the comedians conspired with performing rights organizations Spoken Giants LLC and Word Collections Inc to monopolize comedy copyrights and inflate royalty rates.

Representatives for Pandora did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spoken Giants CEO Jim King said in a statement Thursday that the company was pleased with the decision.

The comedians’ attorney Richard Busch said Thursday that Pandora’s allegations “were clearly meant to intimidate my clients and their families, and put Word Collections out of business.”

The comedians first sued Pandora last year, arguing they have not received a “fraction of a penny” from Pandora for streaming their material, and asked for millions of dollars each in damages.

The ongoing lawsuits said Pandora’s licenses to the comedians’ sound recordings do not include their underlying content. While companies like Pandora often negotiate music licenses with performing-rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI, the comedians said these groups do not license “literary works” like spoken-word comedy.

Pandora countersued, claiming the comedians, Word Collections and Spoken Giants operated as a comedy cartel to charge artificially high streaming royalty rates. Pandora also argued that if the comedians won their case, it and other streaming services might have to remove comedy entirely.

U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi said Wednesday that Pandora had not shown the comedians and groups had enough power to corner the comedy market.

Pandora argued the groups control the portfolios of several “must-have” comedians including Carlin, Williams, Richard Pryor and Jerry Seinfeld.

But “saying a defendant has market power because they control licensing rights for a group of popular comedians, without more, is only slightly better than saying the defendant has market power because they control licensing rights for a group of funny comedians,” Scarsi said.

The case is In re Pandora Media LLC Copyright Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:22-cv-00809.

(Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington)

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