How A 'Columbo' Answer Caused A $300 Million Trivial Pursuit Lawsuit

How A 'Columbo' Answer Caused A $300 Million Trivial Pursuit Lawsuit

Hey, remember Columbo? The detective show that both popularized the “howcatchem” mystery format and was also responsible for one of the biggest lawsuits in the world of trivia games? Yeah, that Columbo!

The character was popular enough to earn a spot among the many trivia questions in the world-famous board game, Trivial Pursuit. Only it was this addition that got the creators of Trivial Pursuit slapped with a lawsuit quicker than you can say, “What’s Columbo’s first name?” See, that was the actual question on one of their trivia cards, with the answer being “Phillip,” of course. Only, wrong! Columbo had no first name, and it turned out that the makers of the game lifted that incorrect fact from a book called “Super Trivia” compiled by one Fred L. Worth … who was now suing them for a whopping $300 million.

Worth was a clever fella and knew he couldn’t copyright a book filled with random facts, so he added a bunch of incorrect ones among them like a secret code. When he saw that the Trivial Pursuit cards had quite a few of the same typos, intentional mistakes, and other coding he had added to his compilation, he knew exactly what they had done. 

Unfortunately for Worth, he didn’t get far with the lawsuit, as Trivial Pursuit lifted facts from multiple sources and not just from “Super Trivia.” The judge deemed the actions of the Trivial Pursuit composers to be more “research” and less “plagiarism” and subsequently threw the case out.  

To this day, many fans of both the show and trivia games believe that Columbo’s name is, in fact, Phillip, even though they can’t agree where they had learned it from, and even though it seems his name could actually be “Frank.”

Zanandi is on Twitter.

Top Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

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