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Joke book editor will pay comics

Jay Leno, other comedians sued to stop use of their material without permission.

January 24, 2008|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, several fellow comedians and NBC Studios have reached a settlement in their federal court lawsuit against author and comedy teacher Judy Brown, who they complained had profited by using unauthorized material from their stand-up routines in her joke books.

Under the settlement, announced Wednesday, Brown's publishers pledged to immediately stop publishing Brown's joke books, to not publish any similar books without the comedians' approval, and to pay the comics compensation.

Brown, whose numerous books include "Joke Soup" and "The Funny Pages," also issued an apology to the comedians.

"In my books, I have published jokes of Jay Leno and other comedians in this lawsuit without their permission," she said in a statement announcing the settlement. "I sincerely apologize for doing so. . . . The best comedians may make comedy seem easy, but I know it takes talent, hard work and careful preparation to make people laugh. That is why I am settling this lawsuit by agreeing never again to publish their jokes without asking their permission to do so."

Leno and other stand-up comics -- including Rita Rudner, Jimmy Brogan, Diane Nichols, Sue Pascoe (the widow of comedian Ronnie Shakes), Kathleen Madigan and Bob Ettinger -- sued Brown in November 2006, alleging that her collection of joke books violated federal copyright and trademark statutes.

"I thought it was important to make it clear that jokes are protected like any other art form," Leno said in a statement released by his L.A. law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. " . . . I'm very glad we've been able to stop this practice once and for all."

Attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who represented Leno and the other plaintiffs, said Brown collected the jokes by often having people go into comedy clubs and tape-record the comedians and their routines. Boutrous also noted that Brown also would use Leno's monologue from "The Tonight Show," as well as material from "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."

"That was one of the things that was so frustrating and maddening to the comedians, particularly when their live act is what they thrive on," Boutrous said. "This settlement stops that practice."

Boutrous would not disclose the exact amount of the settlement, but said that "hundreds of thousands of dollars will go to charity as a result."

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robert.welkos@latimes.com

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