Steve Fenton

Tickets Please joke burgled by copyright claimants

You may have heard this joke before, but it is worth re-capping on the subject of some ridiculous copyright-claims.

Tickets Please Joke

A developer/tester convention was being held. On the train to the convention, there were a group of developers and a group of testers. Each of the developers had their train ticket. The group of testers had only one ticket between them. The developers started laughing and snickering. Then, one of the testers said, “here comes the conductor” and then all of the testers crammed into the toilet cubicle. The developers were puzzled. The conductor came aboard and said “tickets please” and got tickets from all of the developers. He then went to the toilet and knocked on the door and said “ticket please” and one of the testers stuck the ticket under the door. The conductor took it moved onto the next carriage, at which point the testers came out of the bathroom.

The developers felt really stupid. So, on the way back from the convention, the group of developer majors bought one ticket for the entire group. When the testers arrived, they didn’t buy any tickets at all. The developers said to the testers “you may have got away with one ticket between you, but you won’t be able to get away without a ticket at all”. The testers just smiled and hopped on the train.

After a while a tester lookout said “the conductor is coming!” All the testers went to one toilet and the developers went to another toilet . Then, before the conductor came on board, one of the testers left the toilet , knocked on the other toilet door, and said “ticket please.”


You may have heard this joke in any of its other guises – Englishmen vs Scotsmen, Accountants vs Engineers (link expired), Engineers vs Mathematicians – it has been adapted to many scenarios to suit a particular rivalry and sources suggest that this was originally a joke devised by Jewish comedians.

So why would someone email people to threaten them over copyright infringement for using any particular version of this joke?


The story goes a bit like this. Someone put this version (Testers vs Developers) online. They were contacted by someone who claimed to own the copyright for this joke. They responded to this request with something amounting to “erm, are you sure because it has been around in various guises since the first run between Stockton to Darlington in September 1825.”

The response they received demonstrated an incredible ignorance to actual law – and so I’ve decided to put the record straight. The response said “I was the first person to come up with the developers vs testers version of the joke, so I own the copyright” – there was also a veiled threat regarding how the Google team had backed up this claim in a previous dispute (perhaps Google’s next project is a court of civil law… maybe not!)

So here is the bottom line on this kind of copyright claim. In the UK, if you take a joke such as this and change it from “engineers vs accountants” to “developers vs testers” – you have created a derivative work and it actually belongs to the original creator. Let’s put that in context… if I was to take Romeo and Juliet and change the main characters names to Frank and Sheila, I wouldn’t own the copyright to this work. I would have created a derivative of Shakespeare’s work and he would actually deserve the credit for it – what with my role being limited to a find and replace role.

In order to claim copyright for an adaptation, you need to dramatically alter the original work – in the case of this joke, you would need to alter the plot and scenario enough to create an original piece. You would perhaps be writing a story inspired by the “Ticket’s Please” joke, rather than creating a derivative of the “Ticket’s Please” joke.

This is a really important distinction, because under UK law, you can’t claim you own copyright over a work that you actually didn’t write, even if you make a few subtle changes to it along the way. Certainly, you shouldn’t be harassing anyone who reproduces a joke that you didn’t even write.

If you are the original author of this joke (not someone who has created a derivative work) then I would love to give you full credit on this page. Please contact me with the story behind the joke, what the original rivalry was and when it was originally written!

Written by Steve Fenton on