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Did Conan O'Brien steal a joke about 'shrinkage'? It may be up to a jury to decide

by John Horn and Monica Bushman | The Frame

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Conan O'Brien in a screen shot from the Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2015 edition of "Conan." Conan

Copyright infringement lawsuits are nothing new in the entertainment business, but a comedian going to court over a joke-stealing accusation? That's something you don't see every day.

Back in 2015, writer Alex Kaseberg filed a lawsuit alleging that Conan O'Brien stole five of jokes that he'd posted on Twitter or his blog. 

The quips in question include this one about the Washington Monument, from the February 17, 2015 "Conan" monologue on TBS:

That joke bears a striking resemblance to one that Kaseberg posted that same day: "The Washington Monument is ten inches shorter than previously thought. You know the winter has been cold when a monument suffers from shrinkage."

For his part, O’Brien hasn’t taken the accusation lightly. In a deposition last year he said “the notion of stealing someone else's comedy makes me physically ill. It's disgusting."

Eriq Gardner, senior editor at The Hollywood Reporter has been following the lawsuit. He tells The Frame it now appears to be headed to trial.

"What the judge says is that there's specific expression involved and that one could make the case that the way that the [Washington Monument] joke was framed and the punchline and how both elicited humor, were virtually identical to each other," Gardner says. "And so in finding that, the judge has moved the case to a jury."

Representatives for Conan O'Brien provided this statement: "We are very pleased that the court has granted summary judgment and dismissed two of the jokes at issue. We can't comment further on pending litigation, but we are extremely confident that once the facts are presented to a jury, we will be fully vindicated."

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.

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