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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  1. icon
    Gracey (profile), 30 Mar 2011 @ 8:04am

    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.

    http://copyrightlitigation.blogspot.com/2011/03/oprah-winfrey-wins-copyright-battle.html

    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.

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