January 24, 2008 / 12:10 AM / 10 years ago

Jay Leno gets last laugh on joke books

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno got the last laugh on Wednesday in his legal battle with the creator of numerous joke books filled with stolen gags and punch lines.

Talk show host Jay Leno talks to the crowd gathered to view the new cars that General Motors unveiled at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on January 5, 2006. Leno got the last laugh on Wednesday in his legal battle with the creator of numerous joke books filled with stolen gags and punch lines. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The publishers of such compendiums as “Jokes to Go,” “Comedy Thesaurus” and “The Funny Pages” vowed to immediately stop printing and distributing the books in a settlement with Leno and fellow comedians who sued author Judy Brown.

Under the legal deal announced by Leno’s lawyers, Brown and her publishers also agreed to pay monetary compensation, and she apologized to the entertainers whose jokes she copied. Financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

“In my books, I have published jokes of Jay Leno and the other comedians in this lawsuit without their permission,” Brown said in a statement. “I sincerely apologize for doing so. I greatly admire the creativity, wit and energy of stand-up comedians, and I recognize that comedy is as much an art form as other types of creative expression.”

Leno was joined as a plaintiff in the copyright suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in November 2006, by such stand-up comics as Rita Rudner, Jimmy Brogan and Bob Ettinger, as well as by NBC Studios, which produces “The Tonight Show.”

Leno and Rudner plan to donate all their proceeds to charity, said his attorney, Theodore Boutrous.

“We got everything we wanted and could have asked for through the settlement,” he told Reuters.

According to Boutrous, Brown filled her books with thousands of jokes taken from Leno and other professional comics, many of them not a party to the suit, including NBC “Late Night” host Conan O’Brien, Leno’s CBS rival, David Letterman, and Comedy Central funnyman Jon Stewart.

He added that Brown seemed to have a special penchant for Leno, whose material accounted for roughly 10 percent of the jokes reprinted in “Jokes to Go,” one about 17 such books widely available in stores and through online outlets.

Brown gave credit in her books to the comics whose jokes she published, but she violated copyright laws by taking the material without permission or compensation, Boutrous said.

To make matters worse, many of the books were marketed with such slogans as: “Why pay the cover charge in a comedy club? You can get the jokes here,” he said.

Leno acknowledged much of the material attributed to him originated with his “Tonight Show” writing team.

“On behalf of the tremendous and talented group of writers we have at ‘The Tonight Show’ and many other hard-working comedians, I’m very glad we’ve been able to stop this practice once and for all,” he said in a statement.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney

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