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Conan O’Brien Sued for Stealing Jokes
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Summary: Conan O’Brien and his writing staff are battling a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Calling a comedian unfunny is a serious offense. But calling him or her a “joke thief” is equivalent to murder, at least according to TBS host Conan O’Brien. O’Brien and his TV writing staff are being sued for plagiarism, and they’re not laughing about it.


“Accusing a comedian of stealing a joke is the worst thing you can accuse them of, in my opinion, short of murder,” Conan said during a deposition last September obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “I think it’s absolutely terrible.”

The super tall redhead said he became “physically ill” after he was sued earlier last year by blogger Robert “Alex” Kaseberg. Kaseberg said that Conan and his writing team stole jokes from his blog, and the defendants countered that Kaseberg had tried to leverage his accusations into a job. When he wasn’t hired, he allegedly sued.

One example of an alleged stolen joke involved Tom Brady and the Super Bowl. After winning, Brady stated he wanted to buy a truck for whoever helped the Patriots win. Kaseberg’s joke was, “So enjoy that truck, Pete Carroll.” O’Brien’s joke was, “So Brady’s giving his truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.”

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Plaintiff Kaseberg is suing O’Brien, his company Conaco, TBS, and Conan’s writing staff. He said that the writers had stolen five of his jokes. The Hollywood Reporter stated that this case could be pivotal regarding the issue of the use of online material. In summary judgment papers, the defendants said that Kaseberg’s copyright to his jokes was “thin” and that publishing them online was not proof of widespread dissemination.

Even more interesting, Conan’s court papers reveal the staff’s writing process as a defense to how they avoid copyright issues. According to the defendants’ summary judgment brief, Conan’s monologue writers spend the first hour of their workday crafting premises from that day’s news headlines. They stated that they do not use social media profiles, other comedian’s online material, or Google searches. After they create a first batch of jokes, they send them to a writers’ assistant, and those jokes are then revised for grammar and style before being sent to Conan for approval. Conan then makes his own edits and identifies which jokes he wants to use on air. After the writers’ receive Conan’s jokes, they write a new set of jokes that will be submitted in the early afternoon.

Later, the chosen jokes are sent to a research department to be fact checked and to the producers to make sure there are no sponsorship issues. Then a third batch of jokes are submitted to Conan, his sidekick Andy Richter and the show’s head writer Jeff Ross. These jokes are submitted for review anonymously because Conan does not want writers to be judged by quantity.

Through this process, the writers maintain that they could not have stolen Kaseberg’s material because most of the jokes had been submitted through this process before Kaseberg had published his work.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Photo courtesy of PSA

Do you think Kaseberg has a case? Let us know in the comments below. 


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