Late Night Host Stephen Colbert Dances Around IP Issue Over His Own Exaggerated Persona
CBS’s “The Late Show” opted to go live at the conclusion of each day of the Republican National Convention two weeks ago to better respond to the fodder the RNC provides. During one of the shows, host Stephen Colbert brought back his beloved fictional “Colbert” character from his immensely popular “The Colbert Report.” The character was retired after the show ended on Comedy Central and hasn’t been seen for more than a year as the real Stephen Colbert forged his own identity. However, it appears that neither Colbert nor CBS ran it by Comedy Central first as they soon after reached out to stop use of the famous fictionalized persona in the future.
In recent weeks “The Late Show” has seen its fair share of critics with some even suggesting that the popular and successful “Late Late Show” hosted by James Corden — which airs after “The Late Show” and has a massive viral audience online — should switch places with Colbert’s show. In what seems as a response to the critics, Colbert brought back his conservative persona to attempt to appeal to his base fans . . . and it worked to a rousing success. Except Viacom Inc., who owns Comedy Central where “The Colbert Report” ran for ten years, did not find it so funny and according to Colbert its “corporate lawyers” got involved to say that the fictional “Colbert” is their intellectual property and cannot be used. It’s unclear as to whether this is a legitimate claim as on the one hard famous characters created for the purposes of “The Colbert Report” have copyright protection and could be work-for-hire owned by Comedy Central, but on the other the fictionalized “Colbert” is merely an exaggerated version of the real Colbert making his name, image, and likeness his own.
In either case, contact from Viacom’s lawyers was enough for Colbert to pronounce he would no longer use the character on “The Late Show”. However, in true Colbert fashion he was not one to let the warning go and on the July 27, 2016 show debut his fictional character’s “identical twin cousin” who also is named “Stephen Colbert” who acts virtually the same as the original character. Viacom did not respond to comments and it remains to be seen if the new direction is enough for their corporate lawyers.