Are Jokes Copyrighted Or Public Domain?

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Writers and comedians can make a decent living by writing original jokes, but not all their jokes can be copyrighted. The copyright laws of the United States require that for an item to be eligible for copyright protection, it must be fixed and original in a tangible manner. That means verbal jokes don’t fall under that jurisdiction and are ineligible for copyright protection. However, written jokes do fall under that jurisdiction and can be copyrighted in some instances.

As a comedian or writer, you never want someone else to copy your joke, and there are numerous skits showing how easy stealing jokes are from one comedian to the next. However, there is little that you can do when it comes to copyright laws because when you utter a joke verbally, anyone that hears it can repeat the joke unless you have written it down and copyrighted it.

People may give your reference while telling the joke to someone else, but you will still not be able to claim copyright infringement at the end of the day. The laws surrounding copyright state that you must have the item fixed in a tangible manner, so you can’t have a verbal joke copyrighted, no matter how badly you may want that.

Eligibility for Copyright Protection

All recordings, videos, and books of jokes come under the jurisdiction of eligibility for copyright protection and aren’t public domain. That’s because the jokes were recorded in a tangible form by these media, but for the joke to be copyrighted, it must be original content. That means no one must have used the joke before in any of their content.

Also, you won’t be allowed to copyright someone’s joke if you only made minor variations to the joke. Apart from that, general humorous observations made by someone else can also not come under copyright protection. Therefore, you must walk a thin line if you want your joke to become eligible for copyright protection, which won’t always happen the way that you want.

The Fair-Use Exception

However, there is a fair-use exception to the copyright laws regarding a joke, as this exception allows short excerpts of items that have been copyrighted for scholarly review, parody, educational use, and other such purposes. For example, another comedian can perform a comedy routine, where they use your joke as a parody fairly and can’t be subjected to copyright claims.

That’s why it’s always pertinent to copyright longer jokes or a complete collection of jokes or a humorous essay that you’re written. Many comedians don’t like the fair-use exemption as they deem it unfair that another comedian can use their joke in some form in their routine. However, it’s always tricky to determine how they have used the joke or caused a copyright infringement if they have only parodied the joke and given the due reference to the original comedian.

The Automatic Copyright

The Copyright Laws of the United States grant any item eligible for copyright that was created or formed after 1st January 1978 the right to be automatically copyrighted. That means that you don’t have to claim a copyright infringement or register your joke for copyright purposes, and you don’t need the symbol or logo of copyright next to your joke as well.

Even though that has made things much more straightforward, it’s often easier to go into court and win copyright infringement cases if you have a written record of your copyrighted jokes that is open to the public. That’s because most comedians tend to recycle jokes made by other comedians in their routines and frequently get away with it. After all, how many comedians are you going to follow if most of them are using some form of your joke in their routines?

Therefore, having registered copyright next to your joke will strengthen your hand in court, as it will prove to the court that your joke had initially been copyrighted. That’s the smart way to go about things and ensures that you’re not left fighting a futile battle in court with no way to prove that your joke is original and belongs to you solely.

Registering Your Copyright Jokes

If you want to register the copyright to your joke and have it trademarked solely for your use only, you should head over to the Electronic Copyright Office of the United States Copyright Office. There you will need to fill out a form, which will apply to the medium or subject matter of your joke, and determine that it is fixed and tangible. For instance, you will need to use the literary Form TX for any joke that has been published in a book, as that makes it fixed and legally entitled for protection.

On the other hand, you will need Form VA if your joke has been published in a video. You need to fill out those forms entirely and attach a copy of your joke’s medium, where it shows or proves that the joke is fixed and eligible for protection. The file can be sent electronically to the copyright office, or you can choose to mail it to the address registered on the form. Be prepared to pay them a filing fee at the office, and you will get a notification from the office if your copyright has been accepted.


Filing a copyright claim for your joke is no joke (no pun intended) because you would hate to see other comedians profit from your jokes or humor. It takes a lot of hard work and intellect to come up with a great joke, and having it stolen off you by someone hurts a lot more than words can say.

That’s why it’s always best to get your jokes copyrighted because even with the fair-use exemption, many comedians abuse their privilege and flat out commit copyright infringements by using other comedians’ jokes as their own. You can protect yourself and your jokes by getting them accepted under the copyright infringement laws of the United States today.

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