Late-night television host Conan O’Brien has been accused of stealing three jokes from a freelancer’s social media account and blog for his program on TBS.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, O’Brien might be facing a trial to determine whether he lifted jokes from Robert “Alex” Kaseberg about Caitlyn Jenner, Tom Brady and the Washington Monument. Kaseberg has alleged in a California federal court that O’Brien infringed upon his copyrights on five different jokes used on “Conan” from December 2014 to June 2015.
O’Brien stated in a deposition that, “Accusing a comedian of stealing a joke is the worst thing you can accuse them of, in my opinion, short of murder. I think it’s absolutely terrible.”
The Hollywood Reporter added that U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino has allowed Kaseberg to proceed with three of the jokes, contending that the ones related to current events are only eligible for “thin” copyright protection.
A summary judgment was requested by O’Brien and the other defendants who claimed that they wrote the jokes prior to Kaseberg posting them. Even so, the judge is allowing the case to move forward and for Kaseberg to claim that the infringement was willful.
The defense argued that O’Brien and the writers used common expressions and facts.
“Although largely a novel question, the Court agrees with Defendants,” Sammartino wrote in her opinion, asserting that a joke’s punchline is the creative portion, but the defendants are only afforded thin protection due to the limited number of possible variations.
The first joke in question involved the possibility of changing street names dedicated to Bruce Jenner to “Caitlyn.” Kaseberg’s punchline noted that cul-de-sacs would have to be called “cul-de-sackless.” O’Brien used the term “cul-de-no-sack.”
The judge claims that there is a huge question of whether a jury would find these similarities “virtually identical” within the context of the joke.
The second joke referred to Tom Brady winning Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 and considering giving the truck he won as MVP to the man who won the game for the Patriots. Kaseberg used the punchline: “So enjoy that truck, Pete Carroll.”
O’Brien said, “So Brady’s giving his truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.”
In the third joke, Kaseberg wrote that the Washington Monument was ten inches shorter than previously calculated due to cold weather and “shrinkage.”
Kaseberg sent a tweet to writer Mike Sweeney, pointing out the apparent infringement. The judge contended that the “probability of multiple independent creations in such a tight timeframe, at least according to one expert, is highly statistically improbable.”
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