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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Companies: fox, mgm, sony

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Comments on “Pink Panther Studio, Producers And Star Sued For Joke Theft”

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Ryan says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Nelson Cruz says:

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!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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)

Mike (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Seth (profile) says:

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.

OMG says:

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.

jim s says:


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.

Anonymous Coward says:

@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?

eleete (user link) says:

Re: 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.

eleete (user link) says:

Re: 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 ?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Ben Scott says:

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.

Anonymous Hero (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous12 says:

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…

ehrichweiss says:

Re: 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.

bk (profile) says:


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.

eleete (user link) says:

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 ?

bubba says:

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…

Rekrul says:

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)

eleete (user link) says:

Re: 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.

eleete (user link) says:

Re: 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.

MHSL82 says:

Re: 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.

trollificus says:


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.

Rekrul says:

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.

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