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.