Conan O'Brien Targeted in Lawsuit Claiming He Lifted Jokes from Twitter

Robert Kaseberg says his jokes about Tom Brady, Caitlyn Jenner, airlines and the Washington Monument made it into the late night host's monologue.
TBS

A San Diego man has filed a lawsuit against Conan O'Brien, TBS and others on the comedian's team for allegedly violating copyright on four jokes.

According to a complaint filed on July 22 in California federal court by Robert "Alex" Kaseberg, the jokes were posted on a personal blog and on Twitter before making it into O'Brien's late night show monologue.

Kaseberg, who says he contributed to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for 20 years, states in the lawsuit he published the first joke in January 14, writing, "A Delta flight this week took off from Cleveland to New York with just two passengers. And they fought over control of the armrest the entire flight."

That same day, O'Brien made a similar joke on his show.

One of the other jokes dealt with Tom Brady and the other with Caitlyn Jenner. The fourth joke was about the Washington Monument.

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

This allegedly formed the basis for Conan's own joke.

"We at Conaco firmly believe there is no merit to this lawsuit," responds the production company behind the Conan television show.

The new lawsuit comes amid some focus on joke theft on Twitter. This past week, a few jokes published on the media service were removed, apparently at the request of a freelance writer. This led to numerous articles that Twitter was taking joke theft seriously, though it's probably nothing more than an individual submitting a simple form pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Internet service providers only give light scrutiny towards takedown requests. By expeditiously removing material that's claimed to be a violation of copyright, services like Twitter gain an affirmative defense against copyright liability. Users who have material removed then have the opportunity of submitting a counter-notice, which typically results in restoration and provides notice to the rights holder of whom to sue if there's still a dispute.

Tweets stolen for broadcast television obviously invoke a very different legal process. Kaseberg is demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in actual and statutory damages. Here's the full complaint.

UPDATED: And here's what Conan's sideman Andy Richter tweeted in response:

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