Oprah Winfrey Not Guilty Of Copyright Infringement For Discussing America's Chubbiest President

from the idea-vs.-expression dept

Last year, we wrote about a plainly ridiculous lawsuit filed against Oprah Winfrey, claiming copyright infringement, because she apparently mentioned some factual information on TV that had been included in a booklet sent to her in the hopes that it might be promoted. Apparently, the bit of information was the fact that William Howard Taft was the US’s “chubbiest president.” As we pointed out at the time, it was hard to see how that was any form of copyright infringement, so it’s nice to see that the court has agreed, and sided with Oprah, while giving the plaintiff a quick lesson in how copyright law works:

Copyright law protects only an author’s original expression; historical facts and information in the public domain are not copyrightable. Id. at 547-48 (“[N]o author may copyright facts or ideas.”); …. ( “[C]opyright protection does not include facts and ideas, but only their expression.”). There is “thin” copyright protection for an author’s choices as to the presentation of factual matter…. This protection, however, is limited to the author’s original, creative contributions, since copyright “protects only the elements that owe their origin to the compiler-the selection, coordination, and arrangement of facts”….

The material plaintiffs seek to protect here is not original. Plaintiffs argue that Winfrey infringed Harris’s copyright in his booklet by referring to an historical fact, President Taft’s weight… Winfrey’s use of this fact, even if she learned it from Harris’s booklet, does not infringe any copyright Harris may have held. This information is not original to Harris, but rather is a piece of “raw data” that preexisted Harris’s booklet and is available from numerous external sources.

Now, can we get Oprah to do a show on how copyright law is abused?

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Comments on “Oprah Winfrey Not Guilty Of Copyright Infringement For Discussing America's Chubbiest President”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…and I stand corrected. Pardon me for being a sarcastic douche.

Looks like California (shocker) does, or at least did recognize the tort at one time. A cursory Westlaw search spit out a several older decisions from that state. Some more recent opinions, i.e., those after ’76, indicate that such state law claims are often preempted by 15 U.S.C.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

Maybe not wrong, but at least a bit shitty

Oprah may not have been in the wrong, but if she did in fact LEARN the information from the guys work, the least she could have done is make a joking reference to his work.

She is in a position where she makes names for lots of people through promoting their works, but from my perspective she is quite discriminating in who she promotes and sho she burns, and as a result I personally avoid purchasing anything promoted by her.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Maybe not wrong, but at least a bit shitty

I think in general that’s a fair criticism–I think most would agree that attribution is a positive and desirable social norm.

In this particular case, though, mentioning a single fact that she learned from the booklet is forgivable IMO. I can spout many pointless facts and I could not tell you from whence they came.

I realize part of your point is that she is very calculated in her “mentionings” and that may have been the case here. But whether it was or not is unknowable and cannot be proven.

Gracey (user link) says:

I guess I’d wonder if she actually did “quote the book”, since there is a lot of other source material for Taft, and one lawyer indicates that her response was an answer to a question asked on her show that day.


What are the chances? I mean…she reads this guy’s “booklet” and then someone asks a question that relates only specifically to something in the book?

But wikipedia also has the information about Taft’s obesity…the problem is, you’d have to wonder how she would have known the answer to that without using some sort of research…perhaps because had recently read it in that booklet?

I don’t know, but I’d have to agree it isn’t copyright infringement…the rest (morale or not?) depends entirely on how she came about that knowledge.

Gracey (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, somewhat similar to what I was thinking. And that being the case, why would she have that particular question on a teleprompter if she hadn’t in fact read this guy’s booklet?

Although, not every book/booklet/phamphlet is “good”, and she might have opted not to say anything if she didn’t like his book or found it of little value. After all…the old adage is “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything”. On the other hand, she may not have read it, but the producer or whoever puts random questions in the teleprompter read it.

Hy Max says:

Oprah Winfrey is a major copyright troll herself. Want proof? Just try posting a short clip of one of Winfrey’s shows from 20 or 30 years ago on Youtube — and see how quickly it gets taken down.

The worst part is when people invited to speak on that show post a video clip of themselves talking. Big mistake – Oprah Winfrey owns everyone’s own words, too, even though she paid nothing for it.

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