12/14/2010

No laughing matter: humor and the law (More)

Temple law professor Laura Little has written a very serious article (309 footnotes!) about humor: Just a Joke: Defamatory Humor and Incongruity’s Promise. From the abstract:
Humor often arises as a defense in defamation actions, with defendants claiming that their challenged communication was "just a joke." . . . In grappling with humor, courts usually invoke First Amendment doctrine’s familiar distinction between fact and opinion. If a putative joke is sorted down the "opinion" chute, then the humorist faces no civil liability. If, on the other hand, the putative joke suggests false facts unfavorable to the plaintiff, the defendant may face liability. Useful as an analytical starting point, this fact/opinion dichotomy does not adequately integrate all the values and concerns that come into play where humor and defamation law collide.
With the publication of this article about defamation, Professor Little looks to be well on her way to an entire book on the law of humor. In her earlier article Regulating Funny: Humor and the Law, she covered the treatment of humor in the law of contracts, trademarks, and employment discrimination. (That too was a serious piece, though it had fewer footnotes - only 279.)

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More: Professor Little's articles focus on how the law treats humor. University of Virginia law professors Dotan Oliar and Christopher Sprigman are interested in another side of the humor/law relationship: whether professional comedians protect their jokes using social norms rather than the law. Their analysis and conclusions have implications that go well beyond the world of comedy. (Indeed, their articles are the basis for a chapter they have written for the forthcoming book Making and Unmaking Intellectual Property: Creative Production in Legal and Cultural Perspective.) But even for those who are primarily interested in the law-of-humor, their work and the responses it has provoked, are essential pieces of the whole. Here are those pieces: