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No laughing matter: writer claims Conan O'Brien stole jokes

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/16/2017 By BRIAN MELLEY, Associated Press
FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2016 file photo television host Conan O'Brien gestures to the audience at Sanders Theatre on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge. O'Brien is vigorously defending himself from plagiarism allegations by a writer who accused him of ripping off punchlines about Caitlyn Jenner, Tom Brady and the Washington Monument. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa,File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2016 file photo television host Conan O'Brien gestures to the audience at Sanders Theatre on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge. O'Brien is vigorously defending himself from plagiarism allegations by a writer who accused him of ripping off punchlines about Caitlyn Jenner, Tom Brady and the Washington Monument. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa,File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — If the best jokes are stolen, the best comedians don't think it's a laughing matter when they're accused of ripping off material.

That's why Conan O'Brien is vigorously defending himself from plagiarism allegations by a writer who accused him of plagiarizing punchlines about Caitlyn Jenner, Tom Brady and the Washington Monument.

A federal judge in San Diego refused to toss out the lawsuit last week, potentially setting up a novel copyright infringement trial over comic creativity and the value of a punchline.

Robert Alexander Kaseberg said he posted several jokes on blogs or Twitter that the late-night comedian repeated almost verbatim hours later on his "Conan" show on TBS.

"The laughter stopped in late 2014 and early 2015, at least for a spell, when (Kaseberg) began to notice similarities between his posts and several of the jokes used in the late-night television show Conan's monologues," U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino noted in her ruling.

Kaseberg has written for various publications and had more than 1,000 of his jokes told by Jay Leno, a rival of O'Brien.

The judge tossed out allegations over two jokes Kaseberg claimed were originals, but she allowed the suit to go forward on three others, saying the law provides "thin copyright protection" for those.

One of Kaseberg's jokes followed the New England Patriots 2015 Super Bowl victory that followed what was widely considered one of the worst coaching decisions in sports history by the Seattle Seahawks. O'Brien's monologue the next day included a very similar setup and punchline.

"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," O'Brien said. "So Brady's giving his truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll."

Another laugh followed news that surveyors had found the Washington Monument was 10 inches shorter. Both men attributed it to cold weather and "shrinkage."

The suit names O'Brien, his production company, Turner Broadcasting System, Time Warner Inc., and the executive producer and head writer of the show. They have denied the claims and said the material was original.

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