Before suing, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a case. It’s also a good idea to play by the rules. Lest anyone forget, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued 2.7 million “reminders” last week to a company that brought an ill-considered copyright infringement case against Compaq Computer Corporation.

Apparently, Compaq published an instruction booklet containing 7 phrases and 4 illustrations “similar” to photographs and phrases in a 100 page book published by the copyright owners. The jury agreed with Compaq that this was de minimis and “fair use” and hence not copyright infringement. However, because the copyright owners apparently engaged in scorched earth litigation tactics while ignoring their own discovery obligations, the court ordered them to pay Compaq’s attorneys’ fees in the amount of $2.7 million. (Ouch!)

This case is a good example of what can happen when ill-considered claims are pursued beyond reason. It’s also a good example of what can happen when litigants elect not to follow the rules of discovery. My personal feeling is this outcome is a bit harsh and might well dissuade litigants from pursuing legitimate cases. Still, it is an example of what can happen and is something to keep in mind.

(My thanks to The Unknown Tech Lawyer for bringing the case to my attention.)