Tracy v. Winfrey, et al., No. 07-1630 (1st Cir. June 11, 2008).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has affirmed the dismissal of Darlene Tracy’s copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation suit against Oprah Winfrey, Harpo Productions, and ABC Television.

In a pro se complaint filed in federal district court in Boston, Tracy alleged that she came up with the idea that eventually became the hit reality TV show “Oprah’s Big Give.” In the show, which recently completed its run, Winfrey gave money to ten contestants, who then competed to make the biggest impact on the lives of complete strangers by giving the money away. Tracy alleged that she conceived of the idea for a show entitled “The Philanthropist,” and submitted a proposal to an executive producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show. She claims that a second producer told her the proposal was under review, but that the producers stopped returning her phone calls and ignored her requests to return her proposal. The complaint asserts that more than a year later, Winfrey announced at the end of her daily talk show that she was giving $1,000 to audience members to use for a charitable purpose in their communities. Shortly thereafter, Winfrey and ABC announced a new program with the working title “The Big Give,” which Tracy alleged mirrored her concept for “The Philanthropist.”

The district court dismissed the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing to allege facts sufficient to support her claims. Tracy, now represented by counsel, appealed to the First Circuit. But the First Circuit affirmed the dismissal, concluding that “neither copyright nor misappropriation of trade secrets are apt legal theories for the facts as pled by Tracy, which, even construed in her favor, reveal that Tracy voluntarily and without reservation submitted her material to the defendants.”

While the lawsuit was pending, it garnered widespread media coverage, which was rumored to cause at least one large publishing house to back out of discussions concerning a possible companion “Big Give” book out of fear that it, too, might be named in the suit.