June 24, 2021
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sirius XM Holdings Inc on Thursday won the dismissal of a lawsuit by John Melendez, known by his alter ego Stuttering John, claiming it illegally exploited his celebrity on channels dedicated to radio and television host Howard Stern.
Melendez, who left Stern’s radio show in 2004 and became the announcer for NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” sought unspecified damages last August in accusing Sirius of using his name, persona and voice from old recordings without permission to add listeners and sell advertising.
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan ruled, however, that federal copyright law preempted Melendez’s claims that Sirius violated his publicity rights under California law.
Crotty also said Melendez, despite more than 15 years and an estimated 13,000 hours on “The Howard Stern Show,” did not show he was injured or that Sirius illegally used him to promote its services, including channels not dedicated to Stern.
“The commercial advantage Sirius gains from playing the HSS Archives and running the advertisements flows from the rebroadcasting of the copyrightable sound recordings themselves, not from Melendez’s identity,” the judge wrote.
Crotty dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be brought again.
Melendez will likely appeal, his lawyer Michael Popok said in an email, after Crotty “adopted a unique analytic framework which we believe is inconsistent with prevailing law.”
Sirius and lawyers for the New York-based company did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Stern was not a defendant.
Melendez has had a speech impediment since childhood.
Stern dubbed him Stuttering John, and he became known for asking impertinent questions to people like the actor Billy Crystal, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr and the Dalai Lama.
Melendez left Stern’s show just before Stern moved it to Sirius from nationally syndicated radio.
The case is Melendez v. Sirius XM Radio Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 20-06620.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Richard Pullin)