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Louis C.K.’s attempt to maintain his material rights at club shows sparks debate

Photo: Netflix

Louis C.K. continues to be a lighting rod for controversy with everything he does these days. The comedian has been quietly touring clubs in an attempt to build his career back after a very public “canceling” as one of the first men to fall from the then burgeoning #metoo movement. After some time in exile C.K. began to pop up in comedy clubs here and there, returning to the stage with a notebook and attempting to re-build his comedy career. Some welcomed his return while others did not. Most recently, a recording of C.K.’s set ended up online, it was of a performance in front of a sold out club at Governer’s Comedy Club in Long Island on it was material that was obviously new and raw, and like most of his career C.K. discussed taboo subjects like Parkland shooting victims.

Some felt it was too soon, others welcomed it. The debate continued.

This weekend as C.K. announced a handful of shows in Minnesota he once again found himself in the public scrutiny. Comedy fan (and sometimes contributor to The Laugh Button) James Shotwell, tweeted information he received about C.K.’s upcoming shows at Acme Comedy Club and it was picked up by some major publications. The message to fans in essence stated that show goers would not be allowed to have their phones present at the performance, a phenomenon that’s growing increasingly common at both comedy and music clubs around the U.S. with big time comedians utilizing the technology of YONDR to ensure material they are telling on the road does not get out to the public. We alone have used YONDR pouches at shows for comedians like John Mulaney, Pete Davidson, and Dave Chappelle.

Louis C.K.

Acme’s website

But perhaps the next part of the statement is what piqued the interest of many.

Louis CK owns all rights in the content and materials, including any jokes and sketches (the “Materials”), delivered during his performance. The Materials may not be copied, translated, transmitted, displayed, distributed, or reproduced verbatim (the “Use”), in whole or in part, in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed, without the express prior written consent of Louis CK. Any Use of the Materials without the express prior written consent of Louis CK is strictly prohibited and shall be subject to all available legal remedies, whether in equity or at law at the cost of anyone who violates this prohibition.

A statement was made that C.K. owns the material being delivered at the club and if anyone reproduces it in any way without his consent, is a violation and he as the copyright holder can sue for damages. First, let’s get the hack joke about consent outta the way, everyone and their grandmother made it, it’s not as clever as you think. Over it? Good. Second, many noticed that statements like this are often read during broadcasts of sporting events like Major League Baseball but games are still reported on. Our suspicion is C.K. will take legal action if another full-length performance of his material emerges online like the Governers set.

Did Louis C.K. need to inform those attending his show that he owned the rights to his material? In short, no. When you go to a live event it’s implied you do not own the copyright on the material, the artist does. Yes, you are violating copyright law when you are taping your favorite band performing your favorite song or a comedian performing material.

With the very real scenario of someone attempting to record C.K.’s material or write about it to further flame him online it’s very possible he/his team felt this information needed to be relayed to audiences. Even though an artist does not usually inform attendees of this information, it doesn’t mean they aren’t within their rights to do so. In light of the fact many people are attempting to capitalize (financially or socially) on this moment, it’s not unreasonable to give fair warning about the possibility of litigation. To comedians, their material has value and they know it.

Whether you socially agree with the comedian or not is beside the point, he has as much a right as any other artist to defend (legally if need be) his creative work. Take bias out of the situation for a moment, if you were to say any other comedian was releasing this statement would you feel differently?

In the day since this information became public many have shared their opinion on social media, ironically the loudest mostly being other artists and journalists who, we’d reckon would have a different take on this decision if they found their work in the hands of people they didn’t grant rights for it to be.

Oftentimes proving the court of public opinion has a different threshold for evidence than the court of law.

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