Conan O’Brien is not joking around. The TBS comedian and late-night talk show host may have found the punchline to Alex Kaseberg’s copyright infringement claim against O’Brien alleging that O’Brien stole five jokes Kaseberg originally published on Twitter in 2015. O’Brien filed for summary judgment on Friday and argues the jokes were created independently of Kaseberg’s tweets. O’Brien attributes any similarity between his jokes and Kaseberg’s to their genesis in current events and common themes of life.
For instance, both O’Brien and Kaseberg joke that New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady gave Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll the new Chevy Colorado Brady promised to the MVP of Superbowl XLIX, in which the two teams battled. The joke was a reference to Carroll’s controversial decision to pass with just one yard separating Seattle from the end zone and its second consecutive championship. The pass was picked off, and the Patriots went on to win the game. (In reality, Brady gave the truck to cornerback Malcom Butler who made the decisive interception.)
O’Brien and Kasberg also share jeers that a hypothetical cul-de-sac named after Bruce Jenner should be renamed “cul-de-sacless” and a discovery that the Washington Monument is ten inches shorter than previously recorded resulted from “shrinkage” because of cold weather. The other two allegedly infringing jokes tease commercial airline passengers for always fighting over the armrest and the Oakland Raiders for their perpetual futility.
O’Brien admits the jokes concern similar subject matter, but argues they are composed largely of unprotectable elements: ideas. Thus, he claims the jokes are entitled to thin copyright protection and Kaseberg is required to show his jokes and O’Brien’s jokes are virtually identical. Kaseberg has yet to submit an opposition, but alleges in his complaint the similarities between all five jokes are too striking to attribute solely to coincidence.
O’Brien finds this argument perplexing since Kasberg’s tweets received little to no likes or retweets on Twitter at the time of the alleged infringement and O’Brien’s team does not use social media in developing jokes, making it highly improbable that any show writer saw the jokes let alone copied them. O’Brien also contends that two of the jokes were published on his show before Kaseberg tweeted them. Overall, O’Brien views this as a grudge suit for his refusal to hire Kaseberg as one of the show’s writers. O’Brien’s motion states the San Diego resident, who claims he wrote for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for over 20 years, contacted members of O’Brien’s team to become a freelance contributor and was repeatedly rebuffed. Four months later, Kaseberg filed suit.
The Court is expected to rule on O’Brien’s motion in April.