Friday 1 April 2011

Copyright (for) Jokes?

Some time ago I was looking for copyright jokes (that is to say, jokes about copyright) to liven up a presentation entitled 'Recent Developments in Copyright'. It's a long-standing truism that copyright is, to most people, a dull subject, full of hindrance and restrictions. And, given its enforcement in and general poor suitability to the digital age, I am not oblivious to the delicious irony that copyright law can itself be a 'joke'.

However, as a Copyright Officer with a sense of humour, I was determined to unearth some witticisms on the subject of copyright. A lot of my followers on Twitter were extremely forthcoming with jokes to do with copyright, and I had an excellent response to my research (which was done, as light-hearted things always are, on a Friday). Yet, as I gathered all these jokes, quips, puns and cartoons together to find one suitable for my presentation, I had a sneaking suspicion that I may not be able to formulate them into a blog post, given that they were probably (ironically) copyright protected. So I let them be.

But today I have been encouraged and inspired by an article in the Washington College of Law's publication Intellectual Property Brief which discussed the copyright in a joke. Caroline Gousse has carefully analysed the courts' responses to the copyrightability of jokes, and has determined that it has only been in very rare cases that courts have declared jokes as attracting copyright protection. Not only that: the very reason for a joke's existence is to induce laughter, and the novelty factor of a joke wears off the more that it is told.

So, in light of this positive encouragement, I want to review some of the wonderful humour on and about copyright which was shared with me by Twitter faithfuls a few months back:

I went to a party the other day and everyone was naked, turns out it was fancy dress but it was raided by ACS Law and all the superhero costumes were copyrighted (via @patlockley)

Why do all copyright lawyers like kings and queens? Because they are big fans of royalties (via @patlockley)

An Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman walk into the bar, The Englishman says "I wish I had copyrighted this joke" (via @BugsieGiven)

I know a very good joke about copyright but unfortunately I can't afford the royalty fees to be able to tell you.. (via @Felna - a lot of people came up with the same line!)

How many copyright lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? Two - one to decide to do it, the other to actually change it (via @aaronwood)

I have a fabulous copyright joke but I can't share it as it's not licensed for redistribution (via @neonwombat)

Johnny Depp was arrested today for making pirate DVDs (via @4ndrewWall)

This is how we used to pirate music when I was a kid: (via @socialtechno)

Whoever invented the copyright symbol should have a fortune by now (via @OldFunnyJoker but thanks to @Mwirigi)

Cartoons about copyright:

(with greatest of thanks to all who submitted - you provided me with much amusement)


  1. best joke about ownership of jokes:

  2. McDullard, the confidence with which you made that statement led me to instantly believe that it was Stewart Lee's Pasquale routine. You have excellent taste, sir. :D

  3. "..."the novelty factor of a joke wears off the more that it is told"

    That is usually the case, but there are many jokes which become funnier for the retelling, particularly if they are a regular feature of a popular comedian's act.

  4. Agreed - thanks for all the comments and recommendations! Emily

  5. Hi Emily

    You say "it is probably easier to prove breach of contract than infringement of copyright, and possibly cheaper too."

    Well, have you seen Future Copyright ( This site provides online copyright verification and secure work storage for less than the price of a high street coffee. Each time you register a piece of work you get a copyright verification certificate that you can use to prove that you own the copyright to your work.

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