Radio Berkman 225: Can you copyright a joke?

August 3rd, 2015

6305470569_d990663fa2_mListen:or download | …also in Ogg

With 316 million users posting 500 million tweets a day, someone is bound to write an unoriginal tweet now and then.

But there are some Twitter users whose entire existence relies completely on plagiarizing tiny jokes and relatable observations created by other Twitter users. Many plagiarizing accounts have follower numbers ranging from the thousands to the millions. Meaning their exposure can lead to career opportunities and sponsorships built on the creativity of others who are just getting started in their writing careers.

So it was not without excitement that Twitter users found out last week that they can report plagiarizing accounts to Twitter under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and have these copied tweets removed.

But now we’re forced to ask the question: are jokes protected under copyright?

We asked Andy Sellars of Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic to weigh in.

Flickr photo courtesy of wwworks

Music from Podington Bear “Bright White

Reference Section:
How many tweets could there be?
Twitter is deleting stolen jokes
@olgalexell responds
Check out the Chilling Effects database

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This week’s episode produced by Elizabeth Gillis and Daniel Dennis Jones.

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