The seven dirty words you can’t say with AI

A pattern of play and pause buttons
Illustration by Kristen Radtke / The Verge; Getty Images

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in! I’ll be writing today’s Insider edition of Hot Pod while Ariel Shapiro is getting some R&R in sunny Puerto Rico with her family (meanwhile, it’s been an uncharacteristically rainy and gray week here in Los Angeles).

For today’s Insider issue, I’ll take a look at why the estate of legendary comedian George Carlin has sued the Dudesy comedy podcast over an AI-generated comedy special. Finally, a lightning round of deals, announcements, and further reading.

A celebration of Dr. Death

Last night I attended a press event in West Hollywood for Wondery’s podcast series Dr. Death. Its latest season, Dr. Death: Bad Magic, launched this week.

It’s not a secret that streamers love podcast IP, and Wondery has had quite a bit of success on that front. Dr. Death has been adapted into a Peacock series, and three other Wondery podcasts have been adapted into television shows as well: The Shrink Next Door and WeCrashed on Apple TV Plus and Joe Exotic on Peacock.

There’s more to come. Next up, Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc, a Wondery podcast made in partnership with The Boston Globe, is being adapted into the upcoming FX series American Sports Story. And the upcoming FX series Dying for Sex starring Michelle Williams is based on the Wondery’s podcast of the same name.

“We think one of the huge advantages is the information and the investigative research our [limited series podcast team] does. That gives the showrunner so much of a jumpstart, and even helps them when they enter the writer’s room,” said Wondery’s head of TV and film Aaron Hart during the event.

But it’s a guarantee that demand for any IP will stagnate for a while. Hollywood’s content contraction is expected to play out in full force in 2024, with both studios and streamers expected to drastically cut down on content spend.

Dudesy podcast sued over AI-generated George Carlin impression

The estate of the late comedian George Carlin filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the YouTube podcast Dudesy over an AI-generated comedy special, as my colleague Jess Weatherbed reported. It alleges that Dudesy podcast hosts Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen used Carlin’s copyrighted materials and likeness without permission to produce their one-hour comedy special, George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead. In the video, one of the Dudesy hosts impersonates the voice of Carlin with an AI voice simulator tool. The actual material appears to be written by a human and not AI, argued Ars Technica (which the video implies but doesn’t directly state).

“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,” wrote lawyers for Carlin’s estate in the complaint, filed in Los Angeles federal court.

The Carlin estate is seeking immediate removal of the special, as well as an undisclosed figure for damages. AI-generated celebrity digital replicas have led to some recent thorny legal battles and will continue to do so in the future. Last fall, Scarlett Johansson sued an AI app developer for using her name and likeness in an ad. Just this week, a flood of AI-generated, sexually explicit images of Taylor Swift emerged on X, and the platform is slowly suspending accounts in response.

Platforms have taken different approaches to AI-generated content. X restricts the use of synthetic media that may “deceive or confuse people or lead to harm.” YouTube, however, only requires creators to mark a label indicating their video is AI-generated or altered. Both platforms also have rules prohibiting nonconsensual nudity and sexualization regardless of how it’s made, which would prohibit something like the Swift incident.

So far, the Dudesy AI-generated special has racked up over half a million views on YouTube. “An interesting tribute. Not exactly George Carlin-level comedy but worthwhile. I can see why his family is PO’d about it, but here we are,” noted one commenter.

Spotify and Apple prepare for big DMA changes in the EU

Spotify hopes to launch in-app purchases and subscriptions in the European Union in March, my colleague Ariel Shapiro reported earlier this week. The news comes ahead of the bloc’s enforcement of the Digital Markets Act, which bars gatekeeper services like Apple from charging a fee for apps to promote their own services or requiring apps to use its payments processor.

Just yesterday, Apple announced a flurry of iOS changes in response to the DMA, including the introduction of third-party app marketplaces and the option for developers to integrate additional payment systems. Apps that use an alternative payment system will pay a 17 percent commission on digital goods and services (as opposed to 30 percent).

It’s a meaningful discount, but it’s not clear that Spotify execs got everything they were looking for. Spotify put out its plan for in-app purchases ahead of Apple’s announcement. Now that the company knows Apple’s rules, the question is whether the terms are advantageous enough that it follows through on those plans.

Spotify doesn’t seem too thrilled about Apple’s plan, as the company detailed in a blog post on Friday.

Further Reading

  • Web Summit CEO Katherine Maher will serve as NPR’s new president and CEO, the public radio giant’s board of directors announced.
  • Apple Podcasts is getting auto-generated transcripts for podcasts with iOS 17.4.
  • Those Spotify daylists that your friends keep sharing on Instagram Stories were generated by AI, The New York Times reported.
  • Apple Music will pay artists a 10 percent increase in royalties if they make their music available in spatial audio.

Lightning Round

  • iHeart Podcasts will launch Very Special Episodes, a weekly podcast featuring “stranger-than-fiction true tales about everyday people caught up in extraordinary situations,” hosted by author and screenwriter Dana Schwartz, investigative journalist Zaron Burnett, and iHeartRadio producer Jason English. The first episode premieres on January 31st.
  • SmartLess Media is launching WikiHole, hosted by The Good Place star D’Arcy Carden, reported Deadline. The podcast will “feature a panel of comedians who fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole of bizarre and intriguing connections by guessing how famous events, locations and people are connected.” No launch date was given.
  • In the Dark and The New Yorker will launch The Runaway Princesses, a narrative investigative podcast exploring why women in Dubai’s royal family have risked their lives to escape its ruler. The four-part series is hosted by The New Yorker staff writer Heidi Blake and reporter Madeleine Baran and will launch on In the Dark’s feed on January 30th.
  • iHeart Podcasts will launch Magical Rewind, a weekly Disney rewatch podcast hosted by Boy Meets World actor Will Friedle and actress / dancer Sabrina Bryan from The Cheetah Girls films. The first episode premieres on January 24th.