Did you hear the joke about the comedian and copyright law?

Did you hear the joke about the comedian and copyright law?.

Ponder the difference between the comedian and the musician. Both create and perform works to entertain audiences, but they go about protecting that work in different ways. The notoriously litigious music industry often resorts to the legal system to protect itself from pirates and samplers. But comedians don’t. So why hasn’t the joke well gone dry?


In both cases, though, comedy flourished, and neither required official IP laws. “Conventional wisdom would have us believe that this [lack of official protection] entails a tragedy of the commons and suboptimal supply of jokes,” write the chapter’s authors. “Our research makes us pause. We see an operating market.”

Their takeaway is not that we don’t need rules, but that we should be doubly vigilant against the “careless expansion of legal protections.” Informal norms might work well enough within different communities (and the smaller the community, the easier social norms are to enforce), and changing the official rules could produce unintended changes in the type of creativity that people engage in.

IP rules are needed, but they aren’t “necessarily right for stand-up or for every creative practice.” And that’s no joke.


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