LOS ANGELES – The "Tonight Show" host and NBC Studios have sued humor editor Judy Brown and her publishers in U.S. District Court, claiming that her collection of joke books has profited from material filched from his standup routines.
Leno and other comics, including Rita Rudner, are seeking unspecified damages and a permanent injunction against Brown's 19 books — mainly compilations of jokes by comedians including Ellen DeGeneres, Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld, according to the lawsuit.
"Her books credit the comedians who wrote the jokes, which only serves to make the copyright violations more egregious: The books sell precisely because they include jokes by famous comedians," the lawsuit claims.
"Ms. Brown has even sent representatives to comedy clubs to record comedians' routines, so she can then copy the jokes into her books and profit from the original comedic works of others," according to the lawsuit.
Spokeswoman Kathy Hilliard of Andrews McMeel Publishing, one of the publishers named in the lawsuit, declined to comment Thursday. She also declined to comment when asked how Brown could be contacted.
Messages left at the offices of two other defendants, Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. and Rowman & Littlefield Inc., were not immediately returned.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, says the plaintiffs contacted Brown and Andrews McMeel Publishing during the summer to request that they stop publication of any past and future "infringing works."
"We never heard back from her," said Theodore Boutrous Jr., attorney for the plaintiffs.
"We think there's a very important principle at stake: protecting intellectual property of the comedians," Boutrous said. "These jokes are products of a very careful choice of words."