Pink Panther Studio, Producers And Star Sued For Joke Theft

from the a-lawyer,-a-copyright-and-a-loser-walk-into-a-bar... dept

Historically, jokes have always been things that were shared and passed on. The power of a joke is not in the idea behind the joke, but in the telling. Yet, in this era when people have it drilled into their brains over and over again that every creative thing is "ownable," we're now seeing this great tradition of joke sharing and joke telling stifled by claims of "ownership." The latest such example, found via Michael Scott, is that two people are suing over jokes in the Pink Panther movies. Specifically, Jean Epstein and Gary Stretch have sued "MGM, Sony, Fox, producer Robert Simonds, star Steve Martin and others" because they say the Pink Panther movies violate their copyright on certain jokes. Apparently, Epstein and Stretch made a short film that they placed on YouTube and iFilm, which included a few jokes that are similar to jokes in the movies. So, be careful next time you're "performing" a joke you heard somewhere else. Perhaps you'll get sued for copyright infringement.


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    Justin, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:24am

    Well, duh...

    That's what copyright infringement is. And a lot of people make a living off of writing and selling jokes -- you must be able to protect that from appropriation.

    (and yeah, most things that you create -- at least intellectual property -- are "ownable" -- it's called copyright).

     

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      Ryan, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:38am

      Re: Well, duh...

      I don't give a damn if you or your buddies feel like you should be allowed to write a knock-knock joke and then live the rest of your life off the royalties received everytime it is repeated, and and neither does anybody else. I would like to be able to make a living by sitting on my ass and watching tv all day, and getting paid by television stations for watching them. However, the world doesn't work that way. The sole determination of whether a work should be protected by copyright is if it is in the interests of the general public to protect it; if protecting it is a bigger inconvenience to the public than benefit, or if people will create that work anyway without copyright, then it shouldn't be copyrighted. Period.

      If jokes aren't copyrighted, then guess what? People will still create and tell jokes like they have since the beginning of humanity. It serves no common good to give joke-creators royalties, so you have no more right to getting paid for usage than I have a right to get paid for my farts.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:44am

        Re: Re: Well, duh...

        hey, I know some people that would be richer than Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and J.K. Rowling combined if he could get paid for his farts.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:51am

        Re: Re: Well, duh...

        "and then live the rest of your life off the royalties received everytime it is repeated,"

        And then a will is set up to make sure your children can keep benefiting from it for another SEVENTY years.

        Start paying all labor in that fashion and that problem is solved. The next problem, does it make a lick of economic sense ? I'll answer for you, hell no. Start paying people in perpetuity for the work they do for you, set your own example and we'll check back with you and see how it's working.

         

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      Mike (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:46am

      Re: Well, duh...

      you must be able to protect that from appropriation.

      Why?

       

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      Nelson Cruz, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:22pm

      Re: Well, duh...

      Justin, that is the "if value then right" philosophy that took over intellectual property in the last decade or two. But think about it a little and you will see that it is dumb, and not really applied to other things, including real property. Some activities, like fashion and perfumes, function particularly well because they don’t have exclusive rights that stop creators from copying each other. Comedy is the same. If we start granting exclusive rights for jokes… well… can any comedian or comedy writer prove his jokes are 100% original and not based on anything they have seen in the past??? This a legal nightmare waiting to happen! Nobody will be able to say a joke without talking to a lawyer (that’s a sense of humor killer right there)!

      If someone does a comedy sketch based on silly walks, how mush would he own to Monty Python (check youtube)? How about to the heirs of Charles Chaplin?

      And, BTW, the US constitution doesn’t say “if value then right”. It says give exclusive rights “to promote progress in the useful arts”. Is comedy a “useful art”? Maybe… But would exclusive rights promote it? As explained above, NO, quite the oposite!

       

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    mATT, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:29am

    SLAPP?

    I wonder, would something like this be part of a SLAPP suit? Maybe SLAPP should be extended to these types of claims? Sounds like a stretch but might be a good way to deter the copyright claims.

     

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    TriZz, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:34am

    Personally...

    ...I can't wait until Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia get sued out of existence.

     

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      chris (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:48pm

      Re: Personally...

      ...I can't wait until Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia get sued out of existence.

      yeah, both of them have been accused of stealing jokes, but what's important to note, is that joe rogan has taken his dispute with menstealia to the public, rather than the court system.

       

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    Geoffrey Kidd (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:34am

    Uh, Oh, the Dead Parrot sketch is in trouble.

    Given the "copyright is forever" crowd's leanings, I wonder when the heirs of the author of the original version of that sketch (involving a dead slave, but same basic joke) from over two thousand years ago, are going to sue the Pythons for appropriating their work.

     

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      eleete, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:54am

      Re: Uh, Oh, the Dead Parrot sketch is in trouble.

      Lest we not forget, many of Disney's characters were based on Public Domain works "Grims Fairy Tales". Disney is now a fierce lobbyist and IP promotion firm.

       

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    Anonymous12, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:54am

    So should I be able to print a book of Chris Rock's jokes and make a profit?

    If you answer is yes, explain. BTW, I know that's off topic slightly (the subject is jokes), I'm just asking why creativity shouldn't be valued at all?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:05pm

      Re:

      Creativity should not be valued. it is what you do with that creativity that should. If you tell a joke to someone and then they print up a book, ask them to give you credit, but they are the ones who decided to make the book and got it to sell well, they deserve money because they presented it in the way that was worth money.

      everyone tells redneck jokes, but the person who can get people to pay to see him is the one that deserves to get paid for it, not the person who invented the joke (if he wants to get someone to hire him to write their jokes, then he can get paid)

       

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        Gabe, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:12pm

        Re: Re:

        I totally agree with the Coward. Trying to collect royalties for stuff like jokes and catchphrases is not only silly but it's not practical. I think an acknowledgment or nod in the direction of the joke's creator is enough.

         

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        Chronno S. Trigger, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:14pm

        Re: Re:

        On a redneck related note: Jeff Foxworthy admitted in one of his performances that he didn't think up most of his jokes. He ether saw it happen or heard it from someone else.

         

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      Mike (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:17pm

      Re:

      So should I be able to print a book of Chris Rock's jokes and make a profit?

      Why not? If anything that should make people more interested in actually going to see Chris Rock perform, and making his performances (and movies, and albums) more valuable.

      Isaac Asimov has a wonderful book full of jokes, and he admits that every one of them was originally told to him by someone else.

      Should that be illegal?


      If you answer is yes, explain. BTW, I know that's off topic slightly (the subject is jokes), I'm just asking why creativity shouldn't be valued at all?


      Huh? Creativity is valued, but you seem to be confusing value and price.

       

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    Trails (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:55am

    Publicity Stunt

    Dear legal system: please don't feed the Trolls.

    Let's hope they get fined for spurious litigation.

    Aside: I hit enter accidentally and an almost empty comment went through, apologies for the spam if it shows up on the site.

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    Copyright

    Copyright needs to be brought way way down.
    It is way out of hand.
    I feel the need to educate the masses around me when people talk about owning ideas how stupid it is.
    Seriously, it is rediculous. And I am a programmer that could benefit from this bull if I was that stupid too.
    Same to patents ..

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:08pm

    watch out Carlos Mencia!

     

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    Seth, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:12pm

    The Aristocrats (Not Disney's)

    The Aristocrats is a full length documentary with plenty of big name successful comics, basically making the point that it is all in the delivery (performance). The idea of the joke itself does not matter.

    Have you ever noticed that when you repeat a joke you hear a comic tell, people don't laugh quite so hard as they would when the comic tells it. Maybe that's just me and I need to work on my delivery.

    Comics, especially ones whose material is rooted in pop culture and current events, will often times come up with the same joke/observation, because it is an easy and obvious one to make.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:29pm

    what were the jokes?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:31pm

    I guess no one can repeat them or else be sued.

     

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    OMG, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    This is just dumb

    Nothing that you can say or do hasn't been said or done in some way before. If it is "similar" but not the same, then screw you. Yes, screw you, you greedy, self-serving piece of crap. You "own" a joke? Bite me, I'll tell any joke I want to tell and I dare you to try to do something about it, you pompous egomaniac. If I see you on stage and repeat one of your jokes to someone, that makes them want to go see your performance. I do that and you sue me for it - no one will come see you anymore and you're out of the business.

    I hope you go out of business and no one will ever even know your name.

     

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    jim s, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:46pm

    Jokes

    Milton Berle used to use jokes, but I heard that a lot of comedians got generous checks for material he used, though he would joke about stealing material.

    Also a copyright is a copyright, and writing and performance of some short sketches is as protected as 1 hr tv shows, or movies are. I don't see a problem with that other than the ones discussed at length elsewhere.

     

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    Anonymous, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:50pm

    @Mike: You're esentially saying that no one should be able to profit, and or make a living as an artist.

    Here is where your argument seems to unravel best:

    "and albums) more valuable"

    Well if I can print a book of his jokes, why should (by extentsion) I not be able to sell a copy of one of his albums. I'll just digitize an album and re-arange the order of the show? Totally cool with you still? If so, again, explain?

     

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      eleete, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 1:33pm

      Re:

      No one here says that artists or creators 'shouldn't' be able to profit. Be Realistic though. Should they be able to will it to their children ? Should they be able to have complete monopolistic control their ENTIRE lives PLUS 70 years ? then extensions ? If so, I sure as hell wanna come work for you. If something takes 3 years to produce then why can't they make their money back in 3 to 5 to 10 years ? Open your mind to that and you may see what others here see. Welfare.

       

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        eleete, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

        Re: Re:

        Further, does anyone here disagree that an artist/creator should be compensated for their time in a production of something ?

        If I work on a movie set, or in a recording studio for two years, or on a program for three years, should I receive a paycheck for that work, and then move onto the next project ?

        OK, now, should I be able to work 5 years on a project then sit back for the rest of my life, with TOTAL and monopolistic control over my work and demand payments before ANY usage, claiming ANY price I wish, then passing that on to 70 years of my childs life ?

        I'd LOVE to understand the theory behind THAT. Please do include why teachers, architects and construction workers should not be paid the exact same way ?

         

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          Chronno S. Trigger, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:00pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Especially teachers. They are the ones instilling ideas onto our youth that will be used threw out the course of their lives.

           

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      Mike (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:05pm

      Re:

      @Mike: You're esentially saying that no one should be able to profit, and or make a living as an artist.

      Um. No. I've gone over this at least 1000 times by this point.

      Not earning money DIRECTLY from your content doesn't mean YOU DON'T EARN MONEY.

      Well if I can print a book of his jokes, why should (by extentsion) I not be able to sell a copy of one of his albums. I'll just digitize an album and re-arange the order of the show? Totally cool with you still? If so, again, explain?

      You must be new here. Yes, I think that should be perfectly fine. Because people will want to buy the LEGITIMATE version and no matter what you copy you can't copy his live performance.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:56pm

    If someone tells me a joke in a way that makes it funny as all hell then I will be much more willing to pay to see that person preform live since most people cant recreate exactly what that person did to make that joke funny. If someone else can do something different with that joke and still make it damn funny I will still go to see the first guy and maybe the second guy because they took the same joke put a different spin on it and still made to funny. Slapping a copyright "I own it all" sticker on it because you thought to do so first is just plain being a prick because I am sure you probably couldn't make the joke funny in the first place.

     

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    Roger Piwowarski, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 1:17pm

    Copyright "Discussion"

    I always enjoy these opportunites to learn from these online discussions, especially given the civil nature of the comments to one another.

     

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    Ben Scott, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 1:20pm

    Is copyright becoming like patents?

    Does whoever copyrights something first own the idea until 70 years after the death of the author?

    What if the pink panther guys never saw the video, never even heard about it, is it still copyright infringement? Just the mere fact that it exists makes anything resembling it copyright infringement? And if they did see it, is it copyright infringement if the word he can't pronounce is tortellini? Where does the copyright end?

    I have to say that I'm uniformly disappointed with the quality of comments on Techdirt. I see an interesting story like this and expect to read insightful comments under it, and instead it's mostly trolls. I think your douchebag filter might be broken.

     

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    Anonymous Hero (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 1:27pm

    Jokes are not property, only the performance of them

    Just like a picture of a mountain. If I took a picture of a particular mountain, and then sold that picture to people who wanted to use it for a brochure, menu, etc., I would own that particular picture. Then if someone else went to the exact place I was standing, and took a picture of the same mountain, and then sold it in the same way, they would not be infringing on my property. If they downloaded my picture and then sold THAT, it would be. If the Pink panther movie used a clip of a comedian performing the joke, then yes, it would be stealing. If Steve Martin says the same words and does the same actions, then it is not stealing. Very simple.

     

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    Anonymous12, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 1:29pm

    by Anonymous - Feb 12th, 2009 @ 12:50pm
    @Mike: You're esentially saying that no one should be able to profit, and or make a living as an artist.

    Here is where your argument seems to unravel best:

    "and albums) more valuable"

    Well if I can print a book of his jokes, why should (by extentsion) I not be able to sell a copy of one of his albums. I'll just digitize an album and re-arange the order of the show? Totally cool with you still? If so, again, explain?

    This was directed at Mike, but anyone is welcome to try and answer it...

     

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      ehrichweiss, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 4:29pm

      Re:

      I'll take this one...

      Yep, I'd allow it. I'd allow complete and unaltered copies of the albums. Why? Cause people will hear it and want to go to see a live show. More money will then be made at the show from one person than from 8 people buying the damn CD.

      Doug Stanhope operates EXACTLY this way. He encourages his fans to copy and spread his stuff and what does he get in return? Sold out shows and a loyal fan base. I watched a guy give him $20 because he downloaded Doug's albums and Doug kept telling him that he didn't have to because it encourages people to see the live shows; he literally had to force Doug to take the money. My wife and I have seen him no less than 3 times($25 per ticket x 2 people x 3 = much more than his collection of CD's and DVD's cost) and we'll see him again this year when the opportunity arises. So yeah, this does work.

       

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    bk, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:01pm

    sometimes..

    the people who comment remind me of people asking "if God exist, can he make a rock that He can't lift, yuk yuk" @anonymous12, When has Mike ever said that no one should be able to profit. Mike, I know you have got to be tired of people quoting things you did not say. I can see you doing a face palm.

    I would actually have no problem with it. They call them mash-ups or remixes. If it is better than the original order maybe people would like it and then again maybe not.

     

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      eleete, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:08pm

      Re: sometimes..

      please, embellish, who should decide ? Government (under influence of lobbyists) content creators (who have monopolistic control of their little creation) or THE PUBLIC DOMAIN ?
      I'm getting tired of people trying to convince me that I would be better off if the public domain were smaller rather than larger. The same people ask me if I have something they can copy or use for immediate gratification without disbursing cash. Everyone can side with the little guy, who can side with ALL the guys ?

       

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    bubba, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:09pm

    what joke?

    if the second movie is the same as the first there are no jokes in it. what a complete piece of crap that one was. you could write in random things from techdirt and have steve martin say them and it would be the same. crap. i wouldnt even waste time getting it from a torrent. same as the newer version of "The Producers". why was this movie made? the first was perfect. the second wretched crap. studios living off of old genius because they are so vapidly stupid they cant come up with something new... waiting now for a new version of "Annie Hall" with steve martin. uhhh steve? go back to doing coke, you were funnier...

     

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    Rekrul, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:11pm

    This particular incident has me torn...

    On the one hand, I agree that suing over some jokes that seem similar is an abuse of copyright.

    On the other hand, I can't help being amused by the fact that a movie studio is on the receiving end of a copyright infringement lawsuit, made possible by their own efforts to expand the scope of copyright law to ridiculous amounts.

    (By "they" I'm referring to all of the content industry collectively)

     

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      eleete, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:17pm

      Re:

      They really ought to be careful of what they wish for. As a current programmer, and previous photographer (boy did I watch that industry go down in flames). I can appreciate an industry dying and making way for new creativity based on the past. I'm truly hoping that if any strength is given to IP laws, it bites the asses of those who pushed for it.

       

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      GJ, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 4:13pm

      Re:

      Rekrul: you made a good observation and it is very funny indeed. I wanted to pass it on to someone else, but wasn't sure if you made a joke or not.

      Was your observation funny enough to be a joke? Can I pass on the gist of what you said and chalk it up to fair use?

      Questions, questions...

       

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    Anonymous12, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:13pm

    @Mike: Yes I am new. Thank you. I don't necessarily agree 100 % , but you're consistent at least. Thanks again.

     

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      eleete, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:22pm

      Re:

      Sometimes promotion and distribution can be enhanced by others doing things with Your creation. Sometimes they take it and use it in a totally new manner that you could not anticipate. That is what gets things "out there". What a better place to get things "out there" than the internet ? If you want the widest possible audience, don't devalue the possibilities of something being PUBLIC. That is, after all what a PUBLICation is.

       

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    steven, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 2:44pm

    steve martin... not funny!
    pink panther... not funny
    them getting sued... priceless!

     

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      UnrealClock, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:51pm

      Re:

      :/ Peter Seller's Pink Panther was great.

       

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      MHSL82, Jan 5th, 2010 @ 5:33pm

      Re:

      Mastercard's lawyer wants to see you re: using their idea; you know, they have tabs on that. Haven't you been paying attention to this article? You can't use someone else's joke or anything similar...

      On the topic- Wouldn't youtube have the right to sue PP since they own what was posted? And if that was used, they should get royalties if there are ant warranted? JK, I don't know if youtube claims to own what they let post, haven't read their Terms and Conditions. I know that they would reserve the right to remove what they deem violative. If they were to claim ownership, it'd be a double edged sword where they would be liable for things posted.

       

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    trollificus, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 4:33pm

    WTF?

    Almost all jokes are derivative in content or format.

    No, what we have here is another manifestation of the terminal stages of the litigation cancer that will, if left unchecked, stifle creativity in the country entirely. But the lawyers and CEOs will still get rich.

    But at least you lameass "creative" apologists for this bullshit will make a few bucks in the interim...at least until the entertainment megacorps decide all your product is, in fact, owned by them. And don't delude yourselves into thinking any business that owns congressmen can't make that legal. Once the rewards for creativity are decided by members of the legal profession, no "public good" will be served. Except the income of lawyers, of course.

    Plus, I suspect a lot of the people posting these "I'm a poor artist and I should be able to make a little money blahdeblah..." argumentum ad misericordiam posts are actually representatives (corporate whores and shills) of the firms who most benefit from the current sick status quo.

    The ability of some people to believe their own rationalizations is not without very disturbing precedent.

     

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    jprlk, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 8:05am

    Reminds me of M*A*S*H

    while reading this article, i was prompted into remembering an episode of M*A*S*H. hawkeye and bj had a contest to see who could tell the same joke.

     

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    Rekrul, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 9:37am

    Rekrul: you made a good observation and it is very funny indeed. I wanted to pass it on to someone else, but wasn't sure if you made a joke or not.

    Was your observation funny enough to be a joke? Can I pass on the gist of what you said and chalk it up to fair use?


    That was a semi joke. Licensing fees for semi-jokes start at $200 for written republication, plus a 5% royalty of whatever you might make from them. If you wish to relate the semi-joke to someone orally, you'll need performance rights, which start at $500, plus a royalty of 10% of whatever you make. If you want both, you can choose the combination licensing package which covers both written and oral duplication for only $600 with a 12% royalty rate. This will allow you to reproduce the semi-joke for up to six months from the date of payment. If you wish to continue using the semi-joke after that point, you will need to renew the licensing agreement. Depending on how financially successful the semi-joke has been, the licensing fees may be increased to reflect your increased earnings. If the semi-joke hasn't been doing well for you, a discount may be permitted, allowing you to continue to use the semi-joke for a reduced rate. Please note that these rates are only for your own personal use of the semi-joke. If you wish to have others reproduce the semi-joke in written form, or perform it orally, you'll need to purchase a volume license, which will be $1,000 for written copies, plus a 15% royalty on each copy, and $3,000 for performance rights with a 25% royalty rate. Further note that the performance rights only cover live performances of the semi-joke. If you wish to record the semi-joke on a permanent audio/visual format, you will need to purchase performance recording rights and if you want to have your performance of the semi-joke broadcast in some fashion, you will need to purchase performance broadcast rights. Again, these rights only cover a performance of the semi-joke by yourself. To have others perform the semi-joke to be recorded or broadcast, you will need to purchase volume rights for each. For $50,000 and a 40% royalty rate, you can purchase an all-inclusive license that covers all of the above for a period of six months, at which time you'll need to re-negotiate the license fees based on your earning in relation to the semi-joke.

    Which would you like?

    Please note that even passing on the "gist" of the semi-joke, even if the exact wording isn't used, is still considered to be copyright infringement unless the proper license fees are paid and will be met with legal action.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Noah Webster, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 7:35am

    Pay Up!

    Well all the words that they used have already been published, so they are infringing on my copyright, so pay up! (And that means you, too.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2009 @ 3:06pm

    hey mr. mike @ techdirt on the pinkpanther if u would look @th film and the vidio u will see its not only the jokes but also 2 seans

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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