Attorneys for Conan O’Brien, TBS, and writer Robert Alexander Kaseberg announced Thursday that they have settled a lawsuit alleging the late-night host stole jokes from Kaseberg. The case had been expected to go to trial May 28.
Back in 2015, Kaseberg filed suit in federal court accusing O’Brien and TBS of copyright infringement, claiming that five jokes were taken from his blog and Twitter account and used verbatim in O’Brien’s opening monologue. O’Brien and his lawyers denied the allegations.
O’Brien explained the decision to settle in a column for Variety, noting that issues of joke theft have become more fraught than ever in the age of social media. He recalled an incident from 1995 in which he, David Letterman, and Jay Leno told an identical joke, adding, “different people around the world come up with the same joke all the time, especially when the joke is topical.”
“The fact of the matter is that with over 321 million monthly users on Twitter, and seemingly 60% of them budding comedy writers, the creation of the same jokes based on the day’s news is reaching staggering numbers,” O’Brien wrote.
“I believe that the vast majority of people writing comedy are honorable, and they don’t want to steal anyone’s material because there is no joy, and ultimately no profit, in doing so,” he continued. “However, when you add the internet and an easily triggered legal system, the potential for endless time-wasting lawsuits over who was the first to tweet that William Barr looks like a toad with a gluten allergy becomes very real.”
The attorneys did not disclose the terms of the settlement, and offered no statement beyond O’Brien’s column. Had the case gone to trial, prominent comedians such as Patton Oswalt and Andy Richter were expected to testify.