In July, Damon Goffe sued Oprah Winfrey, alleging that Winfrey had infringed his copyright in a series of poems. Goffe demanded 1.2 trillion dollars ($1,200,000,000,000) in damages for what were, presumably, the greatest poems in the universe, poems so good that Jesus had them printed on a T-shirt that he now wears around while telling everybody that Damon Goffe is his new best friend.
Goffe alleged in his complaint that he had published "A Tome of Poetry" (which seems a little like calling a movie "Snakes on a Plane") on the Internet, and that Winfrey had seized the tome and republished parts of it on the Internet under the title "Pieces of My Soul" (which, frankly, is not that much better). Goffe claimed that Winfrey and Harpo, Inc., had sold over 650 million copies of the work, for $20 per copy, "which calculates to 1.2 Trillion dollars." It actually calculates to 1.3 trillion dollars, but what's an extra $100 billion when you're best friends with Jesus? [CORRECTION: it actually calculates to 13 billion dollars, as a reader has since pointed out to me. My math skills have clearly atrophied more than I thought.]
There may be some reason to think that these figures are exaggerated. I can think of at least two.
First, had 650 million copies of "Pieces of My Soul" actually been sold, someone would probably know about it because that would make it one of the most widely distributed works of all time. A puny 100 million "Harry Potter" books have been sold, for example. In fact, 650 million would make it the best-selling copyrighted work of all time, according to data from the Guinness Book of World Records. (The actual best-selling copyrighted work of all time, again according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the Guinness Book of World Records. Guinness appears to want to distinguish itself from the author of better-selling public-domain works like the Bible and the Koran.)
Second, nobody would pay $20 for poetry.
Winfrey, who probably really does have a trillion dollars in her secret underground cash and stolen-poetry vault, opposed Goffe's suit on the grounds that Goffe did not allege he had complied with the registration requirement. And she won. As the court noted, copyright exists as soon as you create a work, but an action cannot be brought to enforce the copyright unless the claim has been registered. 17 U.S.C. 411(a).
You know, some of the words in Oprah's brief look a lot like words I have used recently. Hm.
Anyway, this is neither the first Goffe v. Winfrey case, nor the first one Goffe has lost. Last year, he sued Winfrey in the Southern District of New York, alleging there only that Oprah had "infringe[d] upon his property." Goffe v. Winfrey, 2008 WL 4787515 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 31, 2008). In that case, he didn't say what property had allegedly been infringed, so he does seem to be improving somewhat with experience. He has still not learned to allege registration of copyright, though.