Hays v. Sony Corp. of America
847 F.2d 412 (7th Cir. 1988)

Facts:

Two teachers prepared a manual for their students on how to use the school’s word processors. When the school bought new processors from Sony, the teachers sent them the manual to modify it. However, Sony sent back a near identical one.

  • The following year, the teachers registered their manual with the Copyright Office, and then sued Sony for both common law and statutory copyright infringement.
  • They claimed Sony had made large profits off of the manual, and demanded compensatory and punitive damages, an accounting for profits, an injunction, and attorney’s fees.
    • Note: there was no evidence to support this.

History:

The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim and granted Sony’s Rule 11 motion for sanctions.

  • The court awarded Sony almost $15,000 in sanctions against the teachers’ lawyer, but not them.

Issue:

Was the $15,000 in sanctions the correct amount?

Holding:

Yes. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • The teachers wrote their manual long after the abolition of common law copyright (the federal statute even explicitly abolished it!), and most of their requests for relief against that infringement were frivolous.
    • Their lawyer never wrote Sony regarding the situation prior to suing.
    • Didn’t provide any evidence of lost profits.
    • Didn’t provide any evidence that Sony profited.
    • Didn’t suggest that Sony acted willfully.
  • This showed that the lawyer had not conducted the reasonable precomplaint inquiry into fact and law required by Rule 11.
  • The federal copyright claim was not frivolous, and the lower court correctly only took certain percentages of attorney’s fees, and didn’t base the amount on an entirely frivolous suit.