Take My Joke, Please

Friday, April 09, 2010


When it comes to copyright law, the world of comedy is an untamed and sometimes violent frontier. Comedians don't copyright their jokes; instead, they rely on an informal system of intellectual property enforcement. Chris Sprigman and Dotan Oliarand, two law professors, decided to study how that system works.

Comments [2]

Kathie Florsheim

I have been listening to OTM's coverage of copyright law and have become increasingly uncomfortable about the one-sided perspective that it has represented. Repeatedly OTM interviews those who are interested in diminishing both the reason such protection exists, as well as the term for which it stands. In particular, this week's discussion with James Boyle insistence that renewal of copyright after the creator has died was so one-sided as to be absurd. There are many artists, and creators, who work alone, have no pension plan and pay their own health insurance. This income derived from their copyright is the only legacy they have. Their heirs are entitled to that legacy, just as heirs to a manufacturing fortune are entitled to that legacy. In addition, if there is no protection for the creator's work, what is their incentive to produce it and release it to the public? Contrary to what your guests have said, without this protection there is a disincentive to create, and the loosening of the law will certainly speed that process. The law has already been seriously weakened by recent decisions in the Supreme Court in which Fair Use was interpreted to mean that an artist's work can be appropriated by another individual if the use of that work is deemed transformative.

It seems clear to me that OTM is lobbying for the shortening, if not the outright dissolution, of copyright protection, based on those advocates like Laurence Lessig, that the show has interviewed. Before you next decide to consider the issue in terms of corporate giants, like Disney, consider the smaller beneficiaries of copyright protection, the many working artists who do and should be allowed to benefit from this protection.

Apr. 12 2010 01:34 PM
alex from Brooklyn

There are a couple big issues with your guest's analysis of how a strong and easily applicable copyright law would impact comedy.

If we look at the book, magazine and movie industries, we see easily applied copyright law and enormous variation. Yes, there is great homogeneity in big movie theaters. But in other venues we see all kinds of films. And novels are even more diverse.

Your pieces also misses the difference between jokes/recipes and film/novels. Each joke or recipe call for just a few hours to write, maybe less, once inspiration has hit. But novels requires maybe hundreds of man-hours hours to complete, and big films far more than that. Film has lots of corporate involvement because of the capital invest required to produce them, not because of the differences in copyright law.

Apr. 10 2010 11:31 PM

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