A U.S. District Court judge in Southern California has ruled that a lawsuit filed against Conan O'Brien can move forward.
O'Brien is being sued by a man named Alex Kaseberg for allegedly stealing jokes. In the lawsuit, Kaseberg claims that the late night TV host and his staff of writers stole at least five jokes from him between December 2014 and June 2015.
Although it's tough to prove if someone actually stole a joke, Judge Janis Sammartino is letting the case move forward because there seems to be enough evidence to prove that at least three of the five jokes might have been stolen, and that's where Tom Brady comes in.
One of the three jokes that O'Brien might get in trouble for involves Brady and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
After the Patriots beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX -- thanks in large part to Carroll's decision not to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line -- Kaseberg posted a joke on Twitter at 8:49 a.m. on Feb. 3.
"Tom Brady said he wants to give his MVP truck to the man who won the game for the Patriots. So enjoy that truck, Pete Carroll," Kaseberg wrote.
At 3:14 p.m. later that day, one of O'Brien's writers submitted the same joke, which ended up being used on that night's telecast with a slight modification.
"Tom Brady said he wants to give the truck that he was given as Super Bowl MVP … to the guy who won the Super Bowl for the Patriots. Which is very nice. I think that's nice. I do. Yes. So Brady's giving his truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll," O'Brien said during his show.
O'Brien's legal team has been arguing that the jokes aren't subject to copyright infringement because they involve facts. Although Sammartino agrees, she said she's letting the case move forward because a juror who reads both jokes could be convinced that one of them was copied off the other.
"This probability evidence is in turn bolstered by the fact that Kaseberg tweeted [Conan] writer [Mike] Sweeney after he saw Conan perform allegedly infringing joke No. 2, and that Sweeney received the tweet and 'read it as someone was saying we took one of his jokes,'" Sammartino wrote in her judgement, which was obtained by the Hollywood Reporter.
For Sammartino, that was enough to allow the case to move forward.
"Together, this evidence establishes that: (1) the probability of multiple independent creations in such a tight timeframe, at least according to one expert, is highly statistically improbable; (2) at least two Conan writers were on notice that someone on Twitter was either implying or asserting that the Conan staff was copying his jokes," Sammartino wrote. "(3) one writer thought this development was of enough moment to discuss it with another writer; and (4) a separate group of writers was also likely on notice regarding Plaintiff and his accusations early in the relevant timeline. While not overwhelming, this nonetheless suffices to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Defendants had a reasonable, rather than bare, possibility of accessing Plaintiff's jokes."
Kaseberg's lawyer, Jayson Lorenzo, told the New York Times that Sammartino's ruling is "a victory for comedy writers, especially lesser known writers."
After Sammartino's ruling, O'Brien's legal team released a statement focusing on the positive side of the ruling, which was the fact that the judge had thrown out claims on two of the five jokes
"We are very pleased that the court has granted summary judgment and dismissed two of the jokes at issue," O'Brien's team said, via Vanity Fair. "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."
Besides the Brady joke, O'Brien is accused of stealing a joke about the Washington Monument and a joke about Caitlyn Jenner. If you're wondering why O'Brien's team might steal jokes from Kaseberg, the San Diego-based writer says that he wrote more than 1,000 jokes for Jay Leno during his time as the host of "The Tonight Show."
If the two sides can't come to a resolution in the case, a pretrial hearing will be held in August.