Lieutenant Columbo is one of the most famous TV detectives ever, but did you know that the character’s first name was once used as evidence in a $300 million lawsuit brought against the board game Trivial Pursuit?
What Is Columbo’s First Name?
Fred L. Worth wrote and released a book of trivia in the early 1970s, called The Trivia Encyclopedia. The book contained facts and the author’s own personal theories. An example of those theories is “Worth’s Law,” the idea that something will begin working as soon as the repairman arrives.
The Trivia Encyclopedia’s popularity soon died down, but it was brought back into the public eye in 1984 when Worth sued the makers of Trivial Pursuit for copyright infringement. The writer sought $300 million in damages. He claimed that they had used his book to create the questions for their board game, to the point of including typos and misprints.
One of the biggest pieces of evidence Worth pointed to was the first name of the popular TV show character Lt. Columbo. During the run of the show, Columbo never said his first name. When asked, he would reply that his first name was “Lieutenant.”
One of the facts in The Trivia Encyclopedia was Columbo’s first name, which Worth claimed was Philip. He included this fact in all the sequels for the book as well, saying that he did so in order to catch anyone who might try to violate his copyright.
Trivial Pursuit’s Argument
The makers of Trivial Pursuit did not deny that they used the book to create their questions. Instead, they argued that it is impossible to copyright a fact and that there was nothing improper about using The Trivia Encyclopedia as one of their main sources for the board game.
The presiding judge agreed, noting that Worth’s book and Trivial Pursuit were extremely different products and used the material in very different ways. He ruled in Trivial Pursuit’s favor, but Worth wasn’t going down without a fight.
He appealed the decision, but in 1987, the US Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. The author didn’t stop there, though, even asking the US Supreme Court to review the case; they declined.
Many Still Believe Columbo’s Name is Philip
Even though the fact that Columbo’s first name is not Philip, it still lives on in many fans’ minds. Some claim the name was in the original script for Prescription: Murder, the Columbo stage play, while others say it is visible on his police badge in episodes of the show. However, in close-ups of the character’s badge, his signature names him “Frank Columbo.”
Whatever Columbo’s name really is, Worth’s copyright lawsuit shows how easy it can be to publish something untrue—and how many people will still believe it, even years after it’s been proven to be false.
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