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A screenshot of the Twitter account of Alex Kaseberg
A screenshot of the Twitter account of Alex Kaseberg

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Conan O'Brien settles joke theft lawsuit

Comedian Conan O'Brien, who was accused of stealing jokes from a comedian on Twitter, has settled a lawsuit with the comedian out of court. This puts an end to the prospect of a court case that would involve joke theft.

O'Brien was first sued by Robert Alexander Kaseberg in July 2015. Kaseberg accused O’Brien, his production company TBS, and O'Brien's creative team, for lifting jokes from Kaseberg's blog and Twitter account.

A judge allowed the case to go to trial by ruling that there was a possibility of copyright infringement on three of the five jokes Kaseberg accused O'Brien of plagiarising. US District Court Judge Janis Sammartino examined issues of joke creation in weighing a summary judgment motion from O'Brien and the other defendants. She determined that there were enough similarities to three jokes that were created by Kaseberg and O'Brien's team.

Here are the three jokes:

On Caitlyn Jenner:

Kaseberg: "Three towns, two in Texas, one in Tennessee, have streets named after Bruce Jenner and now they have to consider changing them to Caitlyn. And one will have to change from a Cul-De-Sac to a Cul-De-Sackless.”

O'Brien: "Some cities that have streets named after Bruce Jenner are trying to change the streets’ names to Caitlyn Jenner. If you live on Bruce Jenner Cul-de-sac it will now be Cul-de-no-sack.”

On Tom Brady and Pete Carroll:

Kaseberg: "Tom Brady said he wants to give his MVP truck to the man who won the game for the Patriots. So enjoy that truck, Pete Carroll.”

O'Brien: "Tom Brady said he wants to give the truck that he was given as Super Bowl MVP … to the guy who won the Super Bowl for the Patriots. Which is very nice. I think that’s nice. I do. Yes. So Brady’s giving his truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll."

On The Washington Monument:

Kaseberg: "The Washington Monument is 10 inches shorter than previously thought. You know the winter has been cold when a monument suffers from shrinkage."

O'Brien: "Surveyors announced that the Washington Monument is 10 inches shorter than what’s been recorded. Of course, the monument is blaming the shrinkage on the cold weather."

O'Brien, who after settling the matter out of court with Kaseberg, wrote an editorial in Vanity Fair about it, declaring: "I will tell you what we told him, and what we subsequently swore under oath in a deposition: we had never heard of him or his blog or Twitter account, and we did not steal any of his jokes."

The talk show host attributed parallel creation for the similarities in the jokes. He pointed to the fact that with more than 321 million monthly users on Twitter, and an estimated one-third of them budding comedy writers, the "creation of the same jokes based on the day’s news is reaching staggering numbers".

He said this "parallel creation" of jokes is now so commonplace that Caroline Moss of CNBC and Melissa Radzimiski of the Huffington Post have given it a name: "tweet-saming."

To drive home his point about parallel creation, O'Brien said he had asked his team to monitor Kaseberg's jokes on Twitter after he sued them. And they discovered 15 examples where he tweeted similar jokes, after the creative team had written them for O'Brien's program.

He said the "saga" ended with him and the accuser resolving their dispute amicably. O'Brien said: "I decided to forgo a potentially farcical and expensive jury trial in federal court over five jokes that don’t even make sense anymore. Four years and countless legal bills have been plenty."

In response to the out-of-court-settlement, Kaseberg said in a statement: "I am proud my case helped shed light on an issue facing all comedy writers and am happy to have been part of contributing legal precedent on the issue of protection afforded to jokes. While I cannot discuss the terms of the settlement, I am happy we were able to reach an amicable resolution."

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Mark Laudi

Mark Laudi

Press contact Managing Partner (+65) 6223 2249

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