Famed comedian Conan O’Brien is being forced to defend his use of allegedly stolen material from another’s social media feed.

The trial, which is ongoing, alleges that O’Brien lifted several jokes from the social media feed of the plaintiff. The result could show what happens when comedians get serious about their jokes.

What’s the problem?

In a lawsuit filed by the plaintiff, they allege the late-night talk show host stole jokes about the New England Patriots, Caitlyn Jenner and the Washington Monument. Conan allegedly used these jokes on his TBS show Conan.

The freelance comedy writer alleges that the jokes were specific enough to warrant the lawsuit and that they caused $450,000 in damages.

The potential effects

The debate of whether Conan O’Brien or his writers intentionally took jokes from the plaintiff’s blog or Twitter account is interesting. However, the more intriguing question is whether infringing on an artist’s copyright can reach the standard of theft.

After all, it could be difficult to prove Conan O’Brien or his team found the jokes on the plaintiff’s blog and used them. It is much easier to prove if someone steals a car or takes something from a store.

If these jokes were found to equal theft, it could have created a ripple effect on content aggregators. Entire sites lift material from internet sources and republish them without permission.

What happens next

Conan O’Brien settled out of court just before the trial began. If the trial had proceeded and it was found Conan did steal the jokes, he would have been forced to pay $450,000 and any court fees.

It’s always important to protect IP

This potential trial showed the importance of protecting any published work, even when it’s a blog post or Tweet. Even small infringements, such as a few jokes, can have a massive financial impact.

A knowledgeable copyright attorney can help artists protect their work.