Do Comedians Have Legal Recourse for Joke Stealing?

Photo of a gun by Tanjala Gica/Thinkstock, photo illustration byApparently not.  Slate has an interesting discussion of the long history of joke stealing going back to the oldest known humor book, Philogelos from the 4th century. Two law professors even managed to get a scholarly piece out of the topic.  See Dotan Oliar and Christopher Spirgman, There’s No Free Laugh (Anymore): The Emergence of Intellectual Property Norms and the Transformation of Stand-Up Comedy, 94 Va L. Rev. 1787 (2008). Interestingly enough there does seem to be effective self policing among stand up comedians.  Whoever tells the joke on television first get to claim it.  If two comedians are collaborating and one develops the set-up and the other the punch line, the punch line creator gets to claim the joke.


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