Twitter – a blessing or a curse?

Big news in the comedy community has recently focussed on 'Cheggersgate', where Keith Chegwin has been stealing jokes from other comedians. Local act and prolific tweeter <strong>Teddy</strong> tells us about his own experiences

Feature by Teddy | 03 Sep 2010
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What is it you like about Twitter?

Tweeting gags has been a double-edged sword. On the plus side, I now have almost 1500 followers, a lot of one-liners that I may not have had the motivation to write otherwise, and I’ve been able to record my jokes in a date-stamped fashion by tweeting them. On the negative side is the frustration of seeing my jokes appropriated for uncredited commercial use.

'At school we discussed the great rulers. I opted for the Helix 30cm shatterproof'. This joke you wrote recently made it into the last 20 of a joke competition carrying a £5000 prize.

Great. Except it had been entered by someone else. Thankfully, the comedy chain running the contest were happy to disqualify the gag when I pointed it out, and I’ve now got a couple of open spots and the chance to prove my abilities in one of their clubs.

Not long after that came a second uncredited appearance for the same gag – this time on national television. I was pretty stunned to hear Countdown host Jeff Stelling end an opening monologue with it.

Can you really copyright a joke?

People often don’t realise that jokes are also covered by copyright. Jokes, like any other form of literature, are protected as soon as they are ‘fixed’, ie recorded (for instance on Twitter). Publishing (or broadcasting) of them requires the permission of the author.

Of course, there is some leeway on this. A joke is covered 'provided the comedian has used original skill to create it'. So an obvious topical joke would be difficult to protect, as there’s too high a chance of someone else coming up with it independently. Another bit of wriggle room would be a joke appearing in a review because ‘news & review’ is generally considered fair usage. Though bear in mind that the nature of this usage means the joke would at least be credited.

So people need your permission to tell one of your gags in the pub? 

Nope, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m happy people like my gags. The same applies to retweeting – and the joke author remains clear in that instance. 

When it comes to commercial use though, be aware that they are covered by copyright, you require my permission, and I’ll probably require a fee. As for everyone, the principle of being paid when my work is used commercially is pretty fundamental to me having a roof over my head.

What happened with Countdown?

Thankfully, Channel 4 were good enough to agree that the joke was mine, that I’ll be paid for it, and that I can submit material for future potential credited use at the discretion of the producer. Hopefully what could have been a negative has now become an opportunity.

Sounds like you were lucky this time. So how do you know all this legal stuff?

So that I’m not forgetting to credit the worthy myself, much of the knowledge I’ve gleaned on the subject of joke copyright over the past year has come from the digging of comedy journalist @jayirichardson.

You can follow Teddy @ComedyTeddy

Follow us @SkinnyComedy or @theskinnymag

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