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Stand-up comedy is a comedy where a person performs in front of a live audience using various jokes or amusing stories. The journey of whole stand-up comedy from being a setup about particularly terrible dad joke to a flourishing entertainment industry with millions of fans took a little over 10 years. Mainly from 2010 Indian comedians started to get recognition in India and made stand-up comedy as their profession making inspiring others also to take up stand-up comedy as a career. The main problem of stand-up comedy as a career is stealing jokes by other comedians and hence here comes the importance of intellectual property rights. Intellectual property helps to provide rights to a person over the creation of their minds making it an exclusive theft-proof.

Types of Intellectual Properties

There are various types of intellectual property rights including patents, trademarks, trade secrets, geographical indications, utility models, copyrights, industrial design, layout design of the integrated circuits and new varieties of plants. Although the main right that protects the comedians is copyright and related rights. The copyright law helps comedians to protect their own jokes with their own textual originality. It helps them make their jokes theft-proof.

Relation between them

Intellectual property plays a major role in the parts of stand-up comedy mainly in the comedian’s life. Although they are protected for a limited period of time. The time period for the protection of copyright is 60 years. In the case of original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works the 60-year period is counted from the year following the death of the author. In the case of cinematograph films, sound recordings, photographs, posthumous publications, anonymous and pseudonymous publications, works of government and works of international organisations, the 60-year period is counted from the date of publication. The comedians fall in the category of the performer. Performer’s rights subsist for 25 years.

Governing laws of it

There are many laws that provide copyright protection to various different kinds of work in India. Section 2(y) of the Copyright Act, 1957 provides protection to literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, cinematography film and sound recording. A pre-requisite for the protection of copyright for all kinds of works is fixation and section 13 of the Act, the requirement of originality in the works.

Literary work

Although in India the definition of literary work is not clearly mentioned, there is an inclusive list of works is given under section 2(o) of the Act. Comedians can seek the protection of copyright under literary work as mostly comedians prepares their jokes or set acts on laptop or paper making the preparatory material recorded hence the requirement of fixation fulfilled and the originality requirement also if the act or jokes originated from comedian’s skill, judgment and labour.

Dramatic work

According to section 2(h) of the Act, dramatic work means any work except cinematograph film which includes recitation and choreographic work. Comedians while performing their acts, they include physical movements, speech patterns and facial expressions and hence the comedians can seek the protection of copyright as a dramatic work.

Cinematograph film

Under section 13(1)(b) of the Act, cinematograph film is protected as copyright work in India. Although in R.G. Anand, the SC held that themes, facts and plots cannot be copyrighted as they are only ideas but it also stated that if the subsequent work bears substantial similarities even in expressions with the copyrighted work with only minor changes, then it will constitute as infringement. There is an ‘observer test’ also laid down by the court for determination if the second work is a copy of the first. Comedians often record their acts for later either assessing the audience’s reaction or uploading it on YouTube.  The moment when it is recorded in an audio-visual manner, it is treated as a cinematograph work and can seek protection under it.

Sound recordings

Under section 2(xx) of the Act, any sound recordings are protected under copyright laws. Comedians often record the audiovisuals of their acts for later and hence it qualifies for copyright protection law under sound recordings. 

Registration of copyright

A form is to be filled called the Register of Copyrights in which the names or titles of works and addresses of authors, publishers and owners of copyrights and such other particulars are included. Prescribed fees have to be given and if it clears all the mentioned conditions it will be accompanied by a certificate from the Registrar of Trade Marks referred to in section 3 of the Trade Marks Act, 1999.


There are many defences for the infringement of intellectual properties but in particular, the copyright infringement defences are invalidity, license, public domain, statute of limitations, accident and fair use doctrine. There are also many subcategories and subsections in-between them.


Comedians are very common people most of them, do not even know their rights and what they can do if they want. Common people have to do aware of their rights and how to escape the “joke thief”. Today in the age of digital India, joke theft is very common in social media and most people out of fear of approaching courts do not even file cases. This discourages people and people with originality decrease as they do not get their fair treatment. People also use defences for the works that are created for commercial gains and do not even give the credits to the original creators or even inform them regarding it. More strict laws should be created to protect the creators of original works so that they do not be held back for lack of protection. More rules, regulations and judgments should be created to protect the rights for the copyright infringements and let the comedians do their jobs with much ease without worrying about getting their jokes stolen. 

Author(s) Name: Eshna Ray (Amity University)