As most of you probably already know, Dan Brown, author of the (unintentionally) hilarious novel The Da Vinci Code, has won a copyright-violation case suit brought against him by authors of one of the books he used as a source (CBC story).
When trying to explain the absurdity of software patents, I’ve often used the example of books and movies. Imagine if someone could patent the idea of, say, a guy starting out badly and then redeeming himself, or of a man and woman appearing to hate each-other and then falling in love. While the Brown case used copyright rather than patent law, it came terrifyingly close to my example, since two authors (who do not deserve to be named or linked to here) accused Brown of stealing the idea of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and having kids, etc. from their book. Fortunately, the judge seems to have laughed the plaintiffs out of court, even referring to them as “authors of pretend historical books.”
There’s something else here that you might initially miss, however. Not only did the plaintiffs lose, but the judge ordered them to pay Brown’s publisher’s legal costs — that’s very common in Canada, and apparently also in Great Britain (where this case took place), especially when a judge believes that a lawsuit was unjustified. The two authors who sued Brown will have to pay a few hundred thousand pounds now. If U.S. courts commonly did the same thing, then maybe spurious law suits fishing for big settlements would be a lot less common down there.
Unfortunately, the rule cuts both ways. In loser-pays-costs systems, it’s very hard to get any compensation for an injury from a deep-pockets party no matter how much at fault they are, because there’s no hope that you’ll be able to pay BigCo’s flock of lawyers $100,000 per day, or whatever.
I doesn’t seem to work out that way here, though — I don’t think there are as many stalling tactics available for overpaid lawyers to use). For example, recently a woman sued a Montreal hospital for CAD 90,000 for a botched abortion (she ended up still pregnant). The judge ruled that the hospital was 50% at fault, but that the woman was also 50% at fault because she had neglected to go to a follow-up appointment, so the hospital had to pay her CAD 45K. The amounts at stake are not usually as large here as they would be in the U.S., partly because civil litigation never involves a jury.
Same thing here in Germany. You won’t get problems with completely unreasonable court fees to pay though, because there is quite a strict system on how much money a lawyer may take from his client. The sum largely depends on the so called “Streitwert”, which is the amount of money you are suing for, so you can choose yourself.
I think such kind of law should be implemented by every country.