Conan O’Brien is in town. So is the federal court where exactly a year ago he was sued for $600,000 for copyright infringement — stealing jokes.
Two blocks down Broadway from the Spreckels Theatre where O’Brien’s TBS show is being taped are the courtrooms of Judges Janis Sammartino and David Bartick, who are hearing arguments made by local comedy writer Robert Alexander Kaseberg.
Kaseberg, represented by Jayson Lorenzo of Carlsbad, filed suit July 22, 2015, saying O’Brien and his writing team had lifted four jokes off the local writer’s Twitter feed and blog.
The allegedly purloined pearls, posted in 2015:
- A Delta flight this week took off from Cleveland to New York with just two passengers. And they fought over control of the armrest the entire flight.
- 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.
- The Washington Monument is ten inches shorter than previously thought. You know the winter has been cold when a monument suffers from shrinkage.
- Three streets named Bruce Jenner might have to change names. And one could go from a Cul-de-Sac to a Cul-de-Sackless.
Accused of joke theft are O’Brien, writers Jeff Ross and Mike Sweeney, Turner Broadcasting System and Time Warner Inc. They deny stealing the funny lines. They’re represented by a four-person legal team from Los Angeles-based Glaser Weil.
A jury trial is being sought, but no date has been set. Meanwhile, a series of meetings are under way, ending with a final pretrial conference before Sammartino on March 23, 2017.
Among the issues at play before then is Kaseberg’s request to learn how much O’Brien and his “Conan” comedy writers were paid in 2015.
“I believe we are entitled to what the writers who allegedly wrote the jokes at issue made as well as what other writers on the staff made,” attorney Lorenzo wrote. “This is relevant to establish my client’s actual damages or the fair value of what writers are being paid.”
In June, attorney Nick Huskins for the O’Brien side explained why such figures wouldn’t be disclosed.
“There is no connection between the Conan show’s revenue generated in 2015 or the annual
salary and bonuses of the writers of the show, and the use of a single joke in the show’s monologue,” Huskins said. “Nor is there a practical way to extrapolate the value of a single joke from that information.”
Reached Friday morning via email, Kaseberg, 57, said he had no comment. His lawyer didn’t immediately respond to voice mail requesting comment.
Attorneys for O’Brien, his company Conaco and the other defendants didn’t respond to email requesting comment.
But Kaseberg, a Carmel Valley resident, remained in good form this week, commenting on Donald Trump’s speech accepting the GOP presidential nomination.
In his blog, Kaseberg wrote:
“Donald Trump’s speech last night was borrowed from a sales technique called: “Make them sick and then cure them.” Although I think Trump’s interpretation was: “Beat the crap out of them and then cuddle.”
Kaseberg also took a shot at a major event in town:
The San Diego Comic Con is underway. There are Trekkies, there are Star Wars fanatics, there are Pokemon nuts. It’s a nice week of rest for the San Diego hookers.
Perhaps hinting at why he’s trying so hard to collect from Conan et al, Kaseberg wrote: “When it comes to comedians becoming politically oriented, one way or the other, a brilliant comedian told me you go from comedian to comic to pundit to satirist to unemployed.”
The case number is 3:15-cv-01637-JLS-DHB.