My good friend Adam Frucci over at Splitsider wrote a great piece a while back about accusing people of stealing jokes. It’s a great read, and he really hits the nail on the head. I’d suggest that anyone who is about to accuse someone of stealing their joke give it a read before they fire away an angry email or blog post.
Having been in the comedy business for over 12 years since I started CollegeHumor in 1999, I’ve had to deal with countless examples of people stealing ideas. From having the South Park guys accidentally steal my CollegeHumor writers lines verbatim in their Inception episode (they quickly apologized), to having entire t-shirt companies built by blatantly stealing dozens of our exact shirt designs from BustedTees, I know how frustrating it can be to have ones ideas stolen. I’ve also been on the other side where my team has accidentally plagiarized someone’s work and we’ve had to deal with the consequences of our actions. In all cases I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, until of course I know that we are in the wrong in which case I do whatever is necessary to remedy the situation.
Recently we have had a few instances of people accusing us of stealing their ideas and putting them on shirts. We take a lot of pride in what we do and try our hardest to make sure that everything we put out is original work, so it’s very upsetting to see these accusations pop up from time to time.
Let me give some insight into how our design process works at BustedTees. For the most part, the ideas for our shirts are generated by a network of professional comedy writers that we have ongoing relationships with. We have writer’s room meetings every other week and then we take the best ideas generated in the room and put them into our design queue. Our 2 full-time designers are then assigned jokes/concepts to illustrate in order to meet our quota of 4-6 new shirt designs to be released every week.
When someone makes a point to call us out for stealing something, we take it very seriously. In some cases, after further examination it’s clear that the exact specific joke had already been made and we were in the wrong to have not caught it. When this happens, we offer a licensing deal or else agree to stop selling the shirts immediately. In other (most) cases, the joke we’re making could be somewhat obvious and it turns out that someone else made a similar joke/design on their blog or obscure portfolio page that nobody on our team could have ever realistically seen or found. Often times these jokes were even made after our joke was pitched originally as it can take several months before an idea goes to print on a shirt. Unfortunately, in these circumstances where it was clearly an instance of parallel thinking, there isn’t much to do. As Adam points out on Splitsider, “If you were the first one to make the obvious joke after an event, that does not give you ownership of that joke. Everybody is making that joke.” With the millions of people sharing their jokes, designs, and ideas on the web every day, it’s inevitable that people are going to have similar ideas independently of each other. It would be great if knowing that, people could take a deep breath and think for a minute before publishing a rant about how they were robbed of their work. Most ideas are not original.
On the heels of the Airtime launch I wanted to take a moment to draw a parallel between how Airtime hopes to avoid the pitfalls of chatroulette (i.e. naked people) and how BustedTees fights credit card fraud. Put simply, it’s your social graph. Airtime forces login through facebook in part…