Young artists in any creative field often spending the early days of their careers being paid little and struggling to pay the bills. In fact, young comedians are sometimes not even paid for their performances, despite their hard work writing relatable jokes and perfecting their routine to deliver those jokes for the greatest laugh. This is made even worse by the fact that plagiarism is common in the comedy community. Joke theft can be devastating, especially in cases where a more established comic steals material from someone just getting their start! Luckily, you can use copyright laws to protect yourself if you have the right information and utilize resources that are available to you.
A History of Joke Theft
Joke theft as we know it dates back to the Vaudeville era. Back in the 1930s, comedians rarely overlapped in terms of region, so it was generally considered acceptable to use one another’s material as long as you put your own spin on it. As comedy grew, however, comedians grew more protective of their material and would frequently accuse one another of plagiarism. Comedian Milton Berle was known as the “Thief of Bad Gag” due to his tendency to use jokes popularized by other performers.
As technology advanced and comedians started performing standup routines on late night shows and cable comedy specials, it became even more common for comedians to use another’s material. Unknown performers with smaller platforms were able to do little about this. Once someone performed a piece on television, it would permanently be associated with them whether they came up with the jokes or not. Without copyright registration, it was difficult to determine who really first performed a joke.
How To Protect Your Craft
The nature of comedy complicates things, as comedy is primarily made up of humorous accounts and observations that are not necessarily exclusive to one person’s experience.
Some think that there is nothing to be done about joke theft and big name comedians will always steal jokes from less famous performers, but this doesn’t have to be true! If you are serious about your career as a comedian, you can take the steps now to protect yourself.
One of the best ways to do this is to utilize copyright registrations so you can prove that your material is yours. This might feel daunting or unnecessary, but the alternative is often your work being stolen. In the long term, protecting your rights can mean public recognition and financial success! If you have obtained federal copyright registration, you won’t even have to prove lost revenue to recover copyright damages, which can be a great boon to your well-being.
If you are serious about your skills as a comedian and want legal protection, contact the attorneys at Garcia-Zamor as soon as possible, ideally prior to performing a new comedy set or immediately after you do so. Don’t let your creativity be a bit in someone else’s stand up routine!