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Trivial Pursuit Creators Win Decision

September 9, 1987 GMT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the creators of the board game Trivial Pursuit did not infringe on the copyright of two trivia encyclopedias.

The court threw out a $300 million lawsuit brought by encyclopedist Fred L. Worth against Horn Abbot Ltd. and Selchow & Righter Co.

Although the designers of Trivial Pursuit acknowledged using books by Worth as source material for their game, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Worth wasn’t entitled to compensation.

In affirming a district court ruling against Worth, Judge Dorothy W. Nelson said ″no reasonable jury could find substantial similarity of both ideas and expression between the works at issue.″

Nelson noted that similarity of expression may have to amount to verbatim reproduction or very close paraphrasing before a factual work will be deemed infringed.

Worth said the decision hurts a legitimate author’s integrity, while helping other authors who do little or no research of their own.

″The ramifications are gigantic if you think about computer software,″ he said by telephone from his home in Sacramento.

Worth said he didn’t earn much from the 200,000 trivia books he sold and he was never offered more than a small flat fee from Horn Abbot or Selchow & Righter. He declined to comment on whether he was ever offered a settlement of the suit.

″It took me eight years to compile the facts in my books, and it took them about two months to copy them,″ he said. ″I did their research but I was never compensated.″

Worth filed suit three years ago against Selchow & Righter Co., the marketer of Trivial Pursuit, and Horn Abbot Ltd. and its principals, who designed the game. Court documents showed the game had sales volume of $256 million by the end of 1984.

Worth contended that 1,675 questions (27.9 percent) in the Genus edition of Trivial Pursuit were taken from his book, Super Trivia I; 1,293 questions (21.6 percent) in the Silver Screen edition were taken from Super Trivia I and/or II; and 828 questions (13.8 percent) in the Baby Boomer edition were taken from the two books.

The creators of the game, Canadians Chris Haney and Scott Abbott, didn’t deny consulting Worth’s books in the development of the board game after conceiving it in 1979, but they said the books were among many reference sources they used.


″Factual works receive distinct treatment from fictional works under copyright law,″ Nelson said. ″Indeed, facts, like ideas, are never protected by copyright law. ... The use of the factual content in Worth’s books does not constitute infringement.″

Worth’s lawyer, Joseph F. Hart, said he would have to consult with Worth about a possible appeal to the Supreme Court or a motion for a new trial.