Joke theft and comedians' authenticity

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Science  05 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6410, pp. 42-43
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6410.42-c

Joke theft among comedians is difficult to discern because jokes are rarely identical and may be discovered independently of each other. To determine how people adjudicate instances of joke theft, Reilly conducted 4 years of participant observation and interviews among stand-up comics in Los Angeles to examine norms surrounding joke theft. He found that accusations of joke theft are driven less by joke similarity and more by a comedian's reputation, authenticity, and past success. Comedians perceived as being more successful than they deserve to be are more vulnerable to accusations of joke theft. These data have implications for understanding how intellectual property disputes are handled in other creative and scientific domains, as well as how character and action information are integrated into moral judgment more broadly.

Am. Sociol. Rev. 83, 933 (2018).

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