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Are Jokes Found On Websites Copyrighted?

Updated on May 27, 2012
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This hub is in response to a question about whether jokes published on websites are copyrighted. I have been surfing the web for jokes to reproduce on my hubs and I have come across exactly this same issue. I think it’s a great question, and I have decided to do a hub about it.


The Short Answer
For those of you who are short on time, and those who like their issues either black or white, I will give the short answer first. The short answer is that everything on a website, including the jokes, is copyrighted unless it has been stated otherwise.


The Long Answer
But, regarding content such as jokes, which is copied and recopied and then copied again, without much regard for copyright, it is a little murkier. To start with, there is a good chance that the website copied the joke from somewhere else on the web and so is not the originator of the joke. In other words, the website itself might be violating somebody else’s copyright.

And, because the same jokes are copied all over the web, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find the original author of the joke. So, if you wanted to reproduce a joke, and wanted to ask the copyright holder for permission, you have a very hard task ahead of you.

Furthermore, some of the jokes are changed by the webmaster. In many cases, the change is slight, perhaps just involving the names of people and places. Such a change would probably be considered a derivative work of the original, and is still subject to the same copyright protection.

At other times, the change is significant, involving a complete rewrite with only the main thrust of the joke staying intact. It will then be arguable whether the webmaster has created a new piece of work and hence is entitled to hold the copyright, or the changed work is still considered a derivative, and is still subject to the rights of the original copyright holder.


A Real Life Example
While this did not happen on the Internet, it does underline that reproducing somebody else’s joke is no laughing matter. In November 2006, Jay Leno and his fellow plaintiffs filed a lawsuit claiming that his jokes were being reproduced without his permission. The target was Judy Brown, who edited a series of joke books, and the publishers of those books.

The matter was settled when Brown’s publishers agreed to stop the distribution, manufacture and sale of the joke books. In addition, an undisclosed sum was also paid out by the defendants.1


Disclaimer
I am not a legal professional and while I believe that all the information in this hub is accurate, I make no guarantees as to its accuracy.


Resources
1. Jay Leno Gets the Last Laugh
2. Copyright
3. Plagiarism

Comments

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    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      prasetio30 - First time I have been thought to be a comical person. I have been told that I'm a funny person, although I don't know if funny meant comical. :)

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      anglnwu - In my opinion, if you were to use a quote or two, you should be covered under fair use so long as you cite the source. But if your use could result in a fair amount of profit, I would be very careful and either not use the quote, or get appropriate legal advice.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Good information from you, my friend. Thanks for share with us. I liked jokes very much. I thought you are comical person. Take care!

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 

      7 years ago

      Good topic and something I always wonder about. How about quotes--I see quotes pasted from elsewhere--in this case, most of the quotes are attributed. Are attributed quotes legal or should one seek for permission before using them? Rated up.

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      KoffeeKlatch Gals - That's actually a very good question. Just off the top of my head, I am guessing that many sayings are so old that the copyright has probably expired. As for the rest, you are probably covered under fair use if you reproduce just one quote and cite the source.

      Bumpsysmum - Actually, you are probably more sane than me. :)

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 

      7 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      I thank you....... :-)

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Bumpsysmum - Very much appreciated. Don't worry, you are one of the most sane person that I know, which actually says a lot about the type of friends that I have. :)

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      wandererh, I wonder what the rules are on quotes and sayings.

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 

      7 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Oh, ho ho ho, love your sense of humour - great hub, gave me quite a lift :-) Voted up/funny

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Bumpsysmum - No need for that. These people have really thought of everything. They made sure that their wall coverings comes in only one color, white, so that you don't have to bother yourself over that. :)

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 

      7 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Mmmmmmm-mmmm! That actually sounds like quite good deal? I might have to go out now and look at wall coverings!!

      :-)

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Bumpsysmum - Actually, they are really nice folks. They will invite you over to their place and you get to stay as long as you like. In fact, they probably won't let you leave even when you want to. And they are so concerned about you that they will take the trouble to pad the walls of your room, just in case you should fall and hurt yourself. :)

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 

      7 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Aaaah, so that's who they are! I thought they were just nice folks visiting?? :-)

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Bumpsysmum - When mumblings and sideway glances seem more frequent than usual, I would suggest not to titter for a while, just in case the mumblings are about whether it is time to send in the men in white coats. :)

      cwarden - Don't worry, I don't look for the copyright holders for the jokes that I write. I make it a point to rewrite the jokes and to attribute the source, so I don't think there should be any issues with copyright infringement.

    • cwarden profile image

      cwarden 

      7 years ago from USA

      I enjoy your joke hubs. I can't imagine how much trouble it would be to hunt down all of the copywriter holders. I hope this doesn't discourage you from writing them.

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 

      7 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Funny that's what I thought but I'm sure I've heard mumblings recently and I KNOW I've seen sideways glances!!

      I better titter not for a bit?

      :-)

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Bumpsysmum - Those who are more "mature" are able to get away with more idiosyncrasies without being considered a candidate for the loony bin. :)

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 

      7 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Ah, yes I see, but too late I'm afraid, I'm well past redemption, I titter quite freely & thankfully I'm MATURE enough to get away with it, my loved ones put it down to graceful doteage!!! Hm-mm-mmm-mm-mm....titter!!!

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Bumpsysmum - I could see you standing in a corner and mumbling to yourself, and then looking around furtively to see if anyone heard you and then laughing hysterically. Probably best not to do it in company. :)

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 

      7 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      I best bite my tongue next time I get told a joke and keep it to myself, I'll just stand around and titter quietly to myself, or maybe that's the quick route to a twilight home for the bewildered, which I most surely am? interesting stuff :-)

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      A joke is still intellectual property and has the same copyright protection as any other type of intellectual property. I don't think fair use is applicable if the joke is used in its entirety, and especially if there is a significant profit objective as it is in the case of Jay Leno's lawsuit. And Creative Commons comes into play only if the author states that he is releasing the jokes under a creative Commons license.

    • Jeremey profile image

      Jeremey 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      The intention of a joke is to give a laugh and me personally would not find it funny if complaints were made by a "teller of jokes" regarding copyright laws when those jokes get passed on in hopes of spreading the laughter. Creative commons and fair use I believe would protect any would be recreator of a joke.

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Twilight Lawns - As you have said, some of the jokes are so old that it becomes part of our language heritage. But I try my best to give credit where credit is due and not to step on any toes, so every single joke was rewritten and I credit the source of the joke.

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 

      7 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      The term "Creative Commons" comes to mind. All original work automatically becomes copyright of the creator, although it is wise to do it "more legally" than just by publication. But jokes, whether "original" or not are another matter. The concept of a joke, frequently, is so old that it almost becomes part of our language heritage, but if it is worked in a new way, especially with "updated" terminology, might be a different matter.

      I have actually wondered about your "the best blah blah blah" jokes, hubs and wondered where you stand. The moderators of HP might have a different slant on this, but that is, to work an old phrase, " a different can of worms".

    • wandererh profile imageAUTHOR

      David Lim 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      onenewbrazil - Thanks! :)

    • onenewbrazil profile image

      onenewbrazil 

      7 years ago from Edmond, OK

      Good information. I hope you write more about. I invite you to evaluate my hubs. Have a nice day!

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