The Danger of Using the Web as a Resource for Your Humor

The web is a great resource for information. There are vast quantities of information on everything from aardvarks to zoology. You’d also think it would also be an excellent resource for humor. Let me caution you. You must be careful using the web as a source of humor. There are hundreds of thousands of amateurs hosting web pages, home pages, creating ezines, and sending and forwarding a ton of humor. But because most of them are amateurs, they are not aware that humor is intellectual property. They unknowing will post anything that they find funny. And that might be something they scanned from a copyrighted book, or material they transcribed from some comedian’s performance, or from some humorist’s presentation.

It might be quotes from a comedy tape, a presentation from Comedy Central, or just a few favorite lines they recall from the last comedy show they attended. I have received jokes from friends and colleagues and I have sometimes subscribed to humor ezines and I frequently recognized material that belongs to certain performers but were not credited to them.

You may have heard about the hoax that was perpetrated some months back. A university commencement address was posted and attributed to Kurt Vonnegut. At a meeting of my local NSA chapter I heard a featured speaker quoting from that talk as his own material. A buzz went up around the luncheon table as several other attendees recognized it. Whatever the source, humor is the property of the person who originated it and you cannot use it without their expressed permission. If you want legally safe sources for humor, buy joke books or humor books that are explicitly designed to provide you with material you can use without attribution. When using the web for humor, make sure you know the source of the humor AND that is okay to reproduce the humor.

By John Cantu © 1998, 1999