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The Copyright Conundrum In Stand-Up Comedy Scenario In India

Stand-up Comedy is one of the most amazing forms of art to have ever existed. The element of humour is the soul of this marvellous art form, and therefore, it is bound to enthral everyone, or at least almost everyone (there’s always that one person). In India, the Stand-up comedy culture is enjoying its fair share of growth and success at the moment. The number of Stand-up Comics has increased significantly over the period of time; starting from the Great Indian Laughter Challenge or even before to up until now.

In the course of this developing phase, naturally, a lot has changed. For instance, the method of presenting one’s set, the range of audience, the demand, and so on and so forth. Be that as it may, one aspect among others, which is still exceedingly relevant to this date, is observational Stand-up comedy.

Observational Stand-up Comedy basically refers a Stand-up Comedian’s humorous take on his/her observations on day-to-day activities of life. As the name itself suggests, it is a comic set based on one’s observations.

The very nature of observational stand-up comedy is such that it is bound to have similarities in the premise of stand-up.  This is probably why we get to see 5, 10, or maybe more number of stand-up’s on similar premise/topic. One of the most common such subject-matter would be stand-up on engineering. There are numerous stand-up’s available on YouTube on engineering.

Now the question here is: wouldn’t that give rise to the possibility of similar set of jokes as well? Or let me rephrase it more straightforwardly, doesn’t that invites the law of copyright into the sphere of Stand-up comedy. It is pertinent to note that there have already been such instances in India. For instance, back in 2017, Stand-up Comedian Abijit Ganguly had accused Stand-up Comedian Kapil Sharma of lifting his observational joke related to cricket.

This is one of those incidents that became famous because it involved two known Stand-up Comedians. There must have been, or at least chances are, that such incidents must be happening even now, or would continue to happen.

So, do Stand-up Comics have the right to sue under Copyright or any other IPR law in India in this regard? The short answer is YES! A stand-up comic would be well within his/her right to sue in case such an instance of copying/stealing/lifting of his/her jokes happens.

The relevant legal provision in this regard is Section 13(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957. The relevant part of the Section 13(1) basically states Copyright, inter alia, is available for original literary as well as artistic works.

The aforesaid legal relevance is based the fact in order to perform Stand-Up Comedy, one needs to write his/her set/jokes/observations/punch-lines way before actually presenting it. It is this particular effort/skill of each of the stand-up comic which forms half of their Stand-up (the other half being all about the presentation). Now in some of the cases, this “effort/skill” takes more than 6 months or even 12 months of time. It is this particular skill which entitles a Stand-up Comic to get his content/set/material copyrighted under Sec 13(1) of the Copyright Act, 1957.[1]

But that would merely be the legal and technical aspects. In my opinion, it is the practical aspects of this issue that’s worth analysing. To begin with, I personally feel the law of copyright or IPR in general, isn’t something that should be tinkering with art of Stand-up Comedy. Before I continue with justifying my opinion, I would like to clarify my stance on this issue, if it’s an entirely similar joke that a stand-up comic has stolen and presenting it in his/her stand-up show, then it’s clearly problematic and evidently in violation of IPR. The subject-matter I’m concerned here about is relatively a little broader than that. It’s about similar premise, topics, etc., on which stand-up comedians writes their set.

To substantiate my opinion on non-applicability of IPR in Stand-up Comedy, I have a couple of submissions to make. To begin with, in my opinion, it would mostly end up in a total chaos in the Indian Stand-up Comedy scenario. It would limit a stand-up comic’s view/observation/jokes on the wide range of content-worthy topics. Considering the increasing number the Stand-up Comics, the span of topics being covered, particularly in the open mic shows, it’s impractical to even think of bringing in the IP law (copyright in particular) in Stand-up comedy.

To make an analogy, sheathing the art form of stand-up comedy would have similar outcomes if IPR were to be introduced in the game of chess. It is bound to enormously limit the creativity of the people involved. And naturally if an artist isn’t given the liberty to be creative in an open-ended manner, it would ruin the art.

Moreover, Stand-comedians themselves would be unwilling to sue someone in Court for violation of their IPR in such cases. Realistically, it would such a cumbersome procedure to enforce a copyright for joke theft.[2] Considering the time, money, and effort in all of this particularly from a Comedian’s perspective, it would be immensely far-fetched idea, Probably that is one of the primary reasons why we don’t see IPR infringement cases in Courts with regard to Stand-up Comedy.

Lastly, we have such a diverse extent of Stand-up comics in India that based on one topic, comedians can potentially extract countless jokes out of it, and yet, all of those jokes would be different than the other one but still be more or less equally humorous. For instance, numerous Stand-up comedians, like Varun Grover, Vipul Goyal, Kenny Sebastian, Kunal Kamra and so many equally funny other comedians have uploaded their sets/performances related to politics on YouTube, and each of the aforesaid Stand-up Comic has different method of presenting it, different jokes on it, etc. The only similarity is all of those are equally funny. Thus, I believe IPR should have no relation with Stand-up Comedy in the context of this article.

Author: Vaibhav Gupta –  a student of Presidency University, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email [email protected] or contact us at IIPRD.



[2] Hannah Pham, Note, Intellectual Property In Stand-Up Comedy: When #FuckFuckJerry Is Not Enough, Harv. J.L & Tech. Dig. (2020)

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