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Lawsuit: 3 Conan O'Brien jokes possibly pilfered from blogger

"The most surprising thing to me about this lawsuit is that it was filed in the first place," comments a law professor about the recent allegations that a number of jokes appeared on the "Conan" show after already appearing on a comedy writer's blog. "When you're talking about accusations of infringement dealing with fairly low-dollar-value creative work, we don't see a lot of litigation."

Nevertheless, Alex K., a writer known for hundreds of Jay Leno jokes, is suing Conan O'Brien and his writers for copyright infringement in the form of joke theft.

Alex says he first noticed the jokes pilfering in late 2014. He claims at least five jokes were directly taken from his blog, where he posts a dozen or more at a time -- topical humor written in the same style used in late night monologues.

He was more than willing to continue to provide jokes for money, or even credit. But when he contacted the show's head writer, he "angrily and loudly denied those were my jokes," reads the complaint. It goes on to detail that the "Conan" head writer "was incensed that I would suggest his writers would have anything to do with my pathetic blog and [its] author, me, a no-name failure."

Harsh. Remember, hardball tactics do not always deflect litigation.

Judge rules 3 of the jokes are 'sufficiently objectively virtually identical'

In determining whether to dismiss the case outright, a federal judge had to evaluate the five jokes Alex submitted as essentially the same as those he saw appear on "Conan" after he had posted them to his blog. The judge ruled that three of the "Conan" jokes were "sufficiently objectively virtually identical" to Alex's to allow the lawsuit to move forward.

Next, Alex will have to prove that it wasn't mere coincidence. There are, after all, only so many ways to tell a short joke on a given subject.

"If you put a copy of the day's newspaper in a room with 100 different comedy writers, you're going to see lots of the same jokes where lots of people are circling the same formulation and often the same punch line independently," asserts the law professor.

In fact, Alex will have to prove it's more likely than not that "Conan" willfully infringed upon his copyright. "Similarities derived from the use of common ideas cannot be protected," wrote the judge. "Otherwise, the first to come up with an idea will corner the market."

Whether a lawsuit is the best way to do that is another question.

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