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In this essay, I comment on Dotan Oliar and Christopher Sprigman's article, There's No Free Laugh (Anymore): The Emergence of Intellectual Property Norms and the Transformation of Stand-Up Comedy, 94 Va. L. Rev. 1787 (2008). Their study of the quasi-intellectual property norms in the stand-up comedy world provides yet another compelling example of the phenomenon that I have explored in which the governing intellectual property regime takes a backseat to social norms and other industry customs that dominate the lived experiences of many in creative fields. The microcosm of stand-up comedy reinforces my concern that customs are being used to expand IP law both inside and outside the courtroom. This response to Oliar & Sprigman rejects the suggestion that the existence of social norms challenges the incentive rationale for copyright law. I also conclude that the norms that have developed in the stand-up community are not worthy of judicial or legislative deference and suggest some ways that comics and the courts can disrupt the restrictive norms that Oliar and Sprigman identify.


copyright, norms, intellectual property, law and economics, emergence of property rights, stand-up comedy, custom, entertainment, private ordering, industry standards, fair use, clearance culture, best practices

Publication Title

Virginia Law Review in Brief

Publication Citation

95 Va. L. Rev. In Brief 19 (2009).