Conan O’Brien, comedian and host of his own late night talk show, Conan, on TBS, is being sued in federal court by a comedy writer, Robert Alexander Kaseberg, who alleges that O’Brien stole some of his jokes. O’Brien does not think the idea that he stole, or plagiarized, someone else’s jokes is a laughing matter, and he and his lawyers intend to offer up a vigorous defense against the allegations of copyright infringement whenever the case goes to trial.
According to the New York Daily News, the allegations against Conan O’Brien of copyright infringement focus primarily on the punch lines of three jokes. One was about Tom Brady, another was a joke about the Washington Monument, and the third was a joke about Caitlyn Jenner.
It can often be difficult to prove copyright infringement of a joke in court. A lawyer for the comedy writer, Kaseberg, will get the chance to attempt to prove Conan O’Brien stole his client’s jokes, because last week, U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino in San Diego said she would not toss out the case.
Kaseberg claims the O’Brien repeated several jokes the comedy writer posted online, almost word-for-word, either later that very same day or during the next airing of Conan on TBS. ABC News reported that the comedy writer has had his jokes published in numerous magazines and his humor has caught the eye of an archrival of O’Brien’s, Jay Leno, who has told over 1,000 of his jokes on air.
Even though Judge Sammartino is allowing the plagiarism case to go to trial, she dismissed allegations of copyright infringement on two jokes Kaseberg claimed were ones he had written. Sammartino ruled the lawsuit can go forward based on Kaseberg’s claims about the other three jokes. She said that the law provided copyright protection when it came to jokes, but she called it a “thin” sort of protection.
Lawsuits generally do not go forward when it comes to allegations of copyright infringement regarding jokes, because the lawsuits do not pay very much money if a person wins, unless the comedian who allegedly steal the joke or jokes is a very rich individual and there is also a production company and network that can be sued. Even then, allegations are generally settled out of court.
Kaseberg may have a stronger case than most comedy writers who attempt to carry out a copyright infringement lawsuit against a famous comedian. That is because of “digital timestamps” that are a record of exactly when Kaseberg posted a tweet or a blog post containing specific jokes he wrote.
The lawsuit compares the digital timestamps of the three jokes Kaseberg wrote with emails sent from Conan O’Brien’s writers to him, later on the same days. Kaseberg’s lawsuit names not only Conan O’Brien, but also O’Brien’s production company, Conan’s head writer and executive producer, Time Warner Inc., and Turner Broadcasting System (TBS).
Comedy writer Robert Alexander Kaseberg is going forward in federal court with a lawsuit claiming that comedian and late-night talk show host, Conan O’Brien, stole three jokes from him. O’Brien and the others named in the lawsuit have denied the claims Kaseberg made that copyright infringement took place regarding the three jokes. The contention of O’Brien and the others named in the lawsuit is that the jokes O’Brien said on his television show were original.
By John Samuels
Photo Courtesy TBS