Are puns protected by copyright? A competition

In "The Pun Conundrum", hosted here by the BBC today, Sally Davies discusses whether puns are the lowest form of wordplay or an art form in their own right. She writes:
"... regardless of its rationale, punning is clearly more than a mere linguistic fillip. And there may be reason to hope that the internet will restore its reputation. The efflorescence of punnery on social networking sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit, which bulge with the fruits of meme generators, suggests that puns have become acceptable as part of the online conversation".
Not all puns are entirely
word-based, as this word-
and image example shows
Following the recent Court of Justice rulings in Case C-5/08 Infopaq and thereafter, the notion that a pun might, in and of itself, be sufficiently a work of the author's own original creation to attract copyright in the European Union is by no means far-fetched. Unlike many other short portions of a literary works, the pun is generally capable of being transplanted into any other text in which the word or concept which is the subject of the pun has been deployed. What's more, heated debate is often generated as to who cracked a particular pun first: great credit is given to the originator and, not infrequently, scorn is poured on a subsequent user who is derided for having stolen someone else's bon mot. This suggests that the author's right to be acknowledged as the author of his or her own work is already part of the highly-charged moral background to the use of another's pun.

This Kat, who enjoys puns himself, particularly when they are his own, is offering a prize to the reader who submits the best intellectual property law-based pun by the competition closing date, Sunday 3 February.  Please send your entries to the IPKat here, with the subject heading "Pun Comp".  Each pun which is entered has to be

  • in some way connected with intellectual property law (and that, for these purposes, even includes traditional knowledge and artists' resale royalties);
  • a play on words which exploits the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings;
  • either in English or accompanied by an English-language explanation;
  • either the competition entrant's own pun or, if someone else's, attributed to its originator.

The best puns will be published, assuming that the publication does not infringe copyright, and the prize is a copy of the 6th and latest edition of the Butterworths E-Commerce and IT Law Handbook, of which this Kat is proud to be the Consultant Editor and which you can buy from the publisher's website for a mere £155, so you should be able to get a reasonable price for it on eBay if you don't want it ....   Regardless of whether you're entering the competition, do tell the Kats what you think about the prospects of puns being copyright-protected works in the EU under the current case law!
Are puns protected by copyright? A competition Are puns protected by copyright? A competition Reviewed by Jeremy on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 Rating: 5


  1. I once entered a pun competition. In fact, I submitted ten entries in the hope that one would win . . . but no pun in ten did.

  2. English is my second language, but I have a tired and tested reputation for being punny.

  3. I think that a pun, being relatively short, may "occur" to different people who would not k ow it is elsewhere covered by copyright. For instance, if I say I understand cats, many would tell me that I know cat-a-logue.


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