The US District Court for the Southern District of California has allowed a case to proceed against Conan O’Brien and others for alleged infringement of jokes.
One of the issues in dispute was the extent to which jokes are entitled to copyright protection. The Court noted that “there is little doubt that the jokes at issue merit copyright protection.” However, such protection is limited by the nature of the jokes. “Each joke begins with a factual sentence and then immediately concludes with another sentence providing humorous commentary on the preceding facts.” Facts are not protected by copyright. So, protection is generally limited to the way the punchline is expressed. Therefore, the Court concluded that the jokes at issue were entitled to only “thin” copyright protection.
The Court rejected protection for one of the jokes at issue because, while the facts were the same, the punchlines were expressed differently. However, the Court allowed the case to continue with respect to the other jokes, where the Court found similarities in the way the punchlines were expressed.
Want to see the jokes? Check out the Court’s decision here.