On November 29th, Jay Leno, NBC Studios and a group of other comedians, including Rita Rudner, joined together to sue comedy teacher Judy Brown to stop her from publishing books containing jokes by well-known comedians.
The federal lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, named Brown and three of her publishers--Andrews McMeel Publishing, Sterling Publishing Co. and Rowman & Littlefield, Inc.--for copyright infringement. According to the Los Angeles Times, the suit said that "Brown and her publishers have turned out approximately 19 'joke books' over the past decade that contain 'substantial amounts of published comedic material that is wholly original with [the] plaintiffs.'"
USA Today quoted the lawsuit: Brown's "books credit the comedians who wrote the jokes, which only serves to make the copyright violations more egregious: The books sell precisely because they include jokes by famous comedians . . . Ms. Brown has even sent representatives to comedy clubs to record comedians' routines, so she can then copy the jokes into her books and profit from the original comedic works of others."
Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act is very clear: "Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."
According to CBC Arts, Ms. Brown has "even written a Comedy Thesaurus, which arranges more than 3,000 jokes by subject."
The attorney for the plaintiffs, Theodore Boutrous, Jr., says that the plaintiffs contacted Brown and one of the three publishers also named in the suit to ask that they stop infringing on the comedians' work. He said that no one responded to the requests.
Numerous news agencies attempted to contact the defendants, but were unable to obtain a comment.
USA Today quoted Boutrous: "We think there's a very important principle at stake: protecting intellectual property of the comedians . . . These jokes are products of a very careful choice of words."