Take my Joke, Please

Friday, October 08, 2010


The writers of Saturday Night Live were accused of joke plagiarism last month by sketch comedy writer Tim Heidecker. Whether or not Heidecker’s right, he can’t sue: like fashion, comedy is a world where copyright law barely applies. Comedians don't copyright their jokes; instead, they rely on an informal system of intellectual property enforcement. Chris Sprigman and Dotan Oliar, two law professors, decided to study how that system works.

Comments [4]

john pinney from springfield, Mo.

I worked on cruise ships as a comic for seven years. The stealing was rampant. Not just the other comics but the cruise directors. Say something about it and you were never brought back. I have threatened other comics that stole my stuff. That was a long time ago but I still feel the same way.

Jun. 26 2012 03:01 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Well, let's get into television comedy which a generation ago was pronounced "Too dirty!" by my now deceased mother with whom I agreed. Also, too stupid, though Ally McBeal and, later, Boston Legal had some smart humor. SNL always, at least, had their smart political humor.

So I finally decided, after your above piece exposing the charge against SNL involving a skit (it was terrible, as if even the cast knew that it stunk to high heaven for some reason) I had already decided had to be derivative when I watched it, to watch the life episode of Tina Fey's show. I wanted to see what NBC considered a high point in SNL spin-off humor.

I switched off of The Office but 30 Rock wasn't awful. I'd take Jon Stewart for smarts, though

Oct. 14 2010 09:29 PM
Daymeon Vaughn

In this discussion it is shown that joke stealing is a common thing that happens in the world of comedy today. There is a lot of joke that people hear but i would never think that joke stealing is a huge deal. They said in the discussion that George Lopez one of my favorite comedians had to rough up another comedian when they constantly took a lot of his material. It shocks me that it could go so far, that people get so upset at their joke getting stolen that it has to get physical. Yet when does it go over the line? When does it become such an issue that protections of jokes are needed?

Comedy is such a unique form of art it should be unacceptable to copy jokes, yet there shouldn’t be a law for plagiarizing. I think it’s more of a respect issue than anything, if a comedian is constantly stealing jokes then like said in the discussion they lose respect from fellow comedians. Also they start losing gigs and shows because there not doing honest comedy, which i think is keeping joke plagiarism from becoming a big thing.

Oct. 14 2010 11:33 AM
Beau Martin

This discussion was all about comedy skits, and if they should be protected. Saturday Night Live recently created a skit that had to do with "tiny hats" and a comedian that had previously told a joke about "tiny hats" was upset that SNL supposedly took the joke. The two jokes were actually pretty different, and the fact that jokes are not protected, but the delivery of one is was discussed. Creating another joke that has to do with the fact that tiny hats are funny is not breaking any laws at all.

The conversation then moved towards the argument of whether or not jokes should be protected, and how some people tell jokes that build off of their persona, making it difficult to ever copy. The other type of joke they discussed was a pretty plain general joke that anyone could tell, and pretty much anyone could copy. This relates to our class because the media covers the comedian that took his concerns about the joke public.

Oct. 13 2010 09:52 PM

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