The news story about TV personality Keith Chegwin allegedly stealing comedians’ jokes highlights the challenge of intellectual property in the online age: as soon as you create an asset you face the danger of the material being widely circulated and repeated under other people’s name.
BBC News reports the example of comedian Dan Antopolski who had to confront this dilemma after one of his one-liners – “Hedgehogs: why can’t they just share the hedge?” – won the best joke award at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The joke went viral across the internet. It highlights a major challenge any creative person.
Apparently, he then dropped the routine from his set – because his audiences had already heard it, and some might even assume that Antopolski had plagiarised the gag himself.
The story went onto to report how his agents also forced to issue a cease and desist order to a company which produced T-shirts reproducing the joke.
“The thing with jokes is that once audiences have heard them, they’re no longer funny,” he said. “In my Edinburgh Festival comedy world, the ethic is that you write your own material.
“In the traditional Bernard Manning days, it was different because any two comedians might never play to the same audience. But TV changed all that.
“And now the internet means that people post up comedians’ routines, and then they spread with no mention of who the author is – it’s difficult to talk about it seriously because it all seems so silly, but this does affect people’s ability to make a living.”
I face similar challenges: no, I know my jokes are not funny, so protect themselves by not getting repeated.
Rather, as an author and creator of ideas on creative and flexible thinking you face people using your phrases, insights, and original thoughts -and you may not get any credit for it.
Some key points – yes, another one of Andy’s 7 points schematics – on this debate and issue are:
- Always credit a source wherever possible.
- Believe in abundance – there’s lot of wealth in the world out there. When the great jazz musician Duke Ellington was told about his agent ripping him off, a friend remonstrated that the Duke should be annoyed and angry about the money he has lost. “I’ll just write another song” was the Duke’s reply. So, for every joke ‘stolen’, there will be another along shortly. If you are a creator of material learn to live with other people use it. Indeed, celebrate sharing material. I have had people come up to me and nicely ask me if they could use my talk. My answer was ‘Yes!’. It is far better for as many people as possible to share my legacy to the world, rather than it gathering dust on the hard drive of my computer.
- Always be one step ahead. If you are creating material, rather than rest on your laurels you need to strive and keep going. That is the best defence against plagiarism. As Rudyard Kipling once wrote (note I credit the source): “They tried to copy everything I did. They tried to copy m y mind. But I left them sweating and straining a year and a half behind.”
- Take massive action to seize ownership of what you regard as landmark, and I call ‘Golden Swan’ material: a piece of work that is so good that it will help to define you. With the hedgehog joke Dan Antopolski should have had T shirts made, gone to town with the hedgehog theme in as many different ways as possible, take massive action to let people know it is your baby. So people know, that wherever they may hear the joke, the will know it is his: the joke is part of Dan’s brand.
- Own the meme rather than the material. By ‘ownership’ I just don’t mean conventional Intellectual Property rights, but rather make sure you are part of the transmitted message. In the case of Dan Antopolski and the proposed hedgehog T shirt rather than threaten to sue the T-shirt business he should have got them to add his name to the design, to further extend his ownership and attach his name to the meme of the phrase and joke. He should also plant the ‘joke’ or phrase with his name linked to it, to inspirational quotes web sites and anywhere which can can take a lead role in circulating the story. Sure the web will circulate the material. The trick will be to circulate the story with his name linked – and therefore manage the meme.
- Extend the original joke’s constituency by making jokes about the joke: “Has anyone here got a wheelclamp? I was about to tell the hedgehog joke and I thought I saw Keith Chegwin in the audience!” Be an archaeologist with the material and dig within it for new angles. Be an imperialist with the material and look to see what ways it can be extended.
- Also, it does pay to know a bit about Intellectual Protection. And use a good IP lawyer – I can recommend some – if you want to leverage some commercial gain from your asset.
Yes, we creative people do face challenges in the Internet age. But being creative and using flexible thinking is your best protection and guarantee for being in the forefront to survive and succeed.
Creative people – why can’t they just share the edge?