Plagiarism? Hey, that's MY bit!
December 1, 2006 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Leno, Other Comics Sue Over Joke Books Quote books have been legal and established as fair use, but the lawsuit claims that Ms. Brown sent representatives to comedy clubs to record comedians' routines to copy the jokes into print. Judy defends her fair use rights on Amazon's page for a previous book.
posted by basilwhite (28 comments total)
"If this is anyone but Steve Allen, you're stealing my bit!"
posted by Floydd at 10:53 AM on December 1, 2006

His writing staff would starve if there were too many competing outlets for Cher and K-Fed slams.

Stick it to 'em Jay!
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:54 AM on December 1, 2006

My understanding is that Fair Use provides for quotations but not reproduction of an entire work. In other words, it is not fair use to quote an entire poem. Assuming my understanding is correct, how can it be fair use to quote an entire joke?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:04 AM on December 1, 2006

"A Jew, a Catholic and a..."
posted by Meatbomb at 11:13 AM on December 1, 2006

"...said the actress to the Bishop!"
posted by stenseng at 11:16 AM on December 1, 2006

George: Perhaps it would be unfair to "quote" the entire act, and a single joke is like a phrase or line in a poem or song.
posted by boo_radley at 11:19 AM on December 1, 2006

Fair use balances four factors:
1 - the purpose and character of the use
2 - the nature of the work
3 - the amount and substantiality of the work used
4 - the effect upon the market for the work

As for "entire" joke, well that is all in how you define the work. If you define it small, such as just the joke, then it is easy to say you have taken the whole thing. However, if you define it large, the whole show, then one joke is a small portion of the work. A lot of money could be spent on lawyers on this point alone.

I think the fact that she is making money off of this will sink her. That goes to the first factor and is often heavily weighted in a situation like this.
posted by caddis at 11:22 AM on December 1, 2006

To a first order of approximation, anything you can do at home is legal. Put another way, the acceptability of law enforcement within someone's residence dramatically declines.

Alot of what is and isn't legal, starts making alot of sense in this light. Indeed, it's incomprehensible any other way.

Anyone can cook a meal, therefore food cannot be patented. Not anyone can pour steel, therefore machining can be. Code is new and obscure -- not anyone can do it at home, but those who can, do it at home. Thus, confusion.

Quotations are similar. Someone can come over your house, and deliver a joke that you yourself can tell your friends. It's thus a home-compatible entity. Things get a little fuzzier because she's sending people into clubs (outside the home) to acquire data, but at the end of the day, since clubgoers go home with the jokes in their head, the standard is simply to require attribution (or at least suppress false attribution).

I'm serious. If you want to find controversial, unenforced, or horrifyingly enforced laws, look for those that involve regulating behavior within the residence.
posted by effugas at 11:25 AM on December 1, 2006

I can't speak to the legality, but it certainly seems that these books cross an ethical boundary if the performers are not being compensated for their work, and she's making money from them.
posted by dejah420 at 11:33 AM on December 1, 2006

How can Jay Leno sue over intellectual property? His jokes are anything but intellectual.
posted by peeedro at 11:35 AM on December 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Someone quote peeedro in a joke book, please.

I think back in the 19th Century it was viewed as a compliment when you were included in a quote book. Even Shakespeare blatantly plagiarized from Classical mythology. Intellectual property has gotten way too out of hand.
posted by noble_rot at 11:55 AM on December 1, 2006


Intellectual Property is the only significant export remaining from the United States. This is the driving force behind all of the rules changing.
posted by effugas at 11:58 AM on December 1, 2006

Show me a standard that blocks copying comics, but allows Bartlett's Quotations, and I might believe this lawsuit has any chance of going somewhere.
posted by effugas at 12:04 PM on December 1, 2006
I'm looking for information on joke copyrights -- specifically, what is considered fair use?
posted by caddis at 12:16 PM on December 1, 2006

On the cover of the linked book, she actually lists the names of some of the comics "featured" ...

Featuring Dave Chapelle, Tina Fey, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, and many others

Seems like she is exploiting them to sell the book....
posted by R. Mutt at 12:29 PM on December 1, 2006

Is this really any different than the frequent quotes from Leno et al in Reader's Digest?
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:31 PM on December 1, 2006

*loosens tie...

So you hear that Jay Leno is suing this lady for stealing his jokes?

Says she swiped his intelectual property...

*waits half beat

Thing is... heh, heh .... How can Jay Leno sue over intellectual property?

His jokes are anything but intellectual.

*mops brow

Heh, thank you, thank you...
posted by R. Mutt at 12:39 PM on December 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Two of the commenters on the Amazon link in the post claim that they are "contributors" to the book, though they don't say whether their contributions were solicited. If she asked for jokes from small time comedians and didn't bother asking Leno, Seinfeld, et al, then that double standard certainly goes a long way toward demonstrating that she either thought she was doing something wrong or knew that she'd be refused (without rendering compensation at least). If she didn't ask anyone and some people just heard about the project and sent her jokes because they wanted to, she's in much better shape legally.
posted by camcgee at 1:06 PM on December 1, 2006

Hey, I oughtter sue him for intellectual impropriety! eh, eh?
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:12 PM on December 1, 2006

Wait a minute, those are jokes Leno tells each night?
posted by Robot Johnny at 1:17 PM on December 1, 2006

GB: Gracie! Look at this ... this writer is stealing Jay Leno's act!

GA: Oh no George. That's horrible!

GB: Horrible? Its criminal! He should sue ...

GA: Sue? Whats her name got to do with it?

GB: No, no ... He should sue her for stealing his jokes, his intellectual property...

GA: Oh George, how can he sue over intellectual property? His jokes are anything but intellectual.
posted by R. Mutt at 1:52 PM on December 1, 2006

Now you've got it, R. Mutt. I just knew there was a joke in there, yearning to breathe free.
posted by Floydd at 2:11 PM on December 1, 2006

See above.
posted by R. Mutt at 2:24 PM on December 1, 2006

MeTa. Not mine, R. Mutt's. Who unfortunately forgot to point it out here.
posted by mistersix at 6:33 PM on December 1, 2006

Sorry, the xmas tree we just bought has a deceptively crooked trunk - things have suddenly gotten complicated...
posted by R. Mutt at 7:24 PM on December 1, 2006

Someone quote peeedro in a joke book, please.

I was thinking "What would Leno say about this?" and R. Mutt did it up perfectly. Credit goes to the performer, good show Mutt.
posted by peeedro at 8:18 PM on December 1, 2006

In Leno's defense, I've heard from several people who've seen him perform outside of the Tonight Show that his real material is a lot better than the monologues, which are mostly written by his staff and freelancers.
posted by concrete at 8:34 PM on December 1, 2006

At this point, I don't think we know enough to have an informed opinion. Specifically, we don't know how extensively she's quoting them -- and I think that's what it will come down to. I'm a passionate defender of fair use, but it does have limits, and it's possible this woman crossed them.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:31 PM on December 1, 2006

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