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Leno fails to see the humor in joke books

November 30, 2006|Robert W. Welkos and Rene Lynch | Times Staff Writers

"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno doesn't find anything funny about a collection of joke books that he says have profited by gleaning material from his stand-up routines.

Leno and NBC Studios filed a federal court lawsuit Wednesday to stop comedy teacher Judy Brown from publishing his punch lines in her books, which are largely compilations of jokes uttered by Leno and other comedians, including Ellen DeGeneres, Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Lucille Ball and Tim Allen.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, said that Brown and her publishers have turned out nearly two dozen such joke books.

"Brown is no 'author,' " the lawsuit chides. "She is simply packaging the original copyrighted work of [the plaintiffs], drawing and profiting from a well of creativity that is not her own."

Neither Brown nor two of the publishers named in the suit could be reached for comment. Her books include "Joke Soup" and "The Funny Pages."

Earlier this year, a writer identifying herself as Brown posted a comment on defending herself against such criticism. She said that her material was always attributed and appropriately compiled according to federal copyright law, adding that her books include information so readers can buy a comedian's CDs and DVDs. She said she has covered the comedy scene for two decades, writing for magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times.

"If my intent had been to 'steal' I could have printed the quotes without attribution," she wrote.Several comedians joined Leno in the suit, including Rita Rudner and Jimmy Brogan. Leno plans to donate any proceeds from the lawsuit to charity, as he has done with the profits from joke collections he has written, according to the suit.

The suit says the books dilute the plaintiffs' ability to market their own jokes even as they turn a profit for Brown:

"As the back cover of one of Brown's books proudly claims, [the books] allow customers to enjoy the jokes of 'the best and brightest comedians ... without paying the two-drink minimum at a comedy club.' "

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