Illustration by Idiots’Books
Herve Guignol chaired the executive committee. Sammy had known him for years. They’d come east together from San Jose, where Guignol had run the entertainment side of eBay. They’d been recruited by Disney Parks at the same time, during the hostile takeover and breakup, and they’d had their share of nights out, golf games, and stupid movies together.
But when Guignol was wearing his chairman’s hat, it was like he was a different person. The boardroom was filled with huge, ergonomic chairs, the center of the table lined with bottles of imported water and trays of fanciful canapes in the shapes of Disney characters. Sammy sat to Guignol’s left and Hackelberg sat to his right.
Guignol brought the meeting to order and the rest of the committee stopped chatting and checking email and looked expectant. At the touch of a button, the door swung shut with an authoritative clunk and shutters slid down over the window.
“Welcome, and thank you for attending on such short notice. You know Augustus Hackelberg; he has something to present to you.”
Hackelberg climbed to his feet and looked out at them. He didn’t look good.
“An issue has arisen—” Sammy loved the third person passive voice that dominated corporate meetings. Like the issue had arisen all on its own, spontaneously. “A decision that was taken has come back to bite us.” He explained about the DiaBs and the code, laying it out more or less as it happened, though of course he downplayed his involvement in advising Sammy to go ahead and ship.
The committee asked a few intense questions, none directed at Sammy, who kept quiet, though he instinctively wanted to defend his record. They took a break after an hour, and Sammy found himself in a corner with Guignol.
“What do you think?” Sammy asked him.
Guignol grimaced. “I think we’re pretty screwed. Someone is going to have to take a fall for this, you know. It’s going to cost us a fortune.”
Sammy nodded. “Well, unless we just settle with them,” he said. “You know—we drop the suit we just filed and they drop theirs….” He had hoped that this would come out on its own, but it was clear that Hackelberg wasn’t going to offer it up himself. He was too in love with the idea of getting his hands on Perry and Lester.
Guignol rocked his head from side to side. “You think they’d go for it?”
Sammy dropped his voice to a whisper and turned away from the rest of the room to confound any lip-readers. “I think they’ve offered to do that.”
Guignol cut his eyes over to Hackelberg and Sammy nodded, imperceptibly.
Guignol moved away, leaving Sammy to eat a Mickey head built from chunks of salmon and hamachi. Guignol moved among the committee, talking to a few members. Sammy recognized the behavior—consolidating power. Hard to remember that this was the guy he’d played savage, high-stakes games of putt-putt golf with.
The meeting reconvened. No one looked at Sammy. They all looked at Hackelberg.
“What about trying to settle the suit?” Guignol said.
Hackelberg flushed. “I don’t know if that’s possible—”
“What about if we offer to settle in exchange for dropping the suit we’ve just filed?”
Hackelberg’s hands squeezed the side of the table. “I don’t think that that would be a wise course of action. This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for—the chance to crack them wide open and see what’s going on inside. Discover just what they’ve taken from us and how. Out them for all their bad acts.”
Guignol nodded. “OK, that’s true. Now, as I understand it, every DiaB we shipped with this Banks person’s code on it is a separate act of infringement. We shipped a million of them. What’s the potential liability per unit?”
“Courts usually award—”
Guignol knocked quietly on the table. “What’s the potential liability—what’s the size of the bill a court could hand down, if a jury was involved? If, say, this became part of someone’s litigation portfolio.”
Hackelberg looked away. “It’s up to five hundred thousand per separate act of infringement.”
Guignol nodded. “So, we’re looking at a ceiling on the liability at $500 billion, then?”
“Technically, yes. But—”
“I propose that we offer a settlement, quid-pro-quo with this Banks person. We drop our suit if he indemnifies us from damages for his.”
“Seconded,” said someone at the table. Things were picking up steam. Sammy bit the inside of his cheek to keep his smile in check.
“Wait,” Hackelberg said. “Gentlemen and lady, please. While it’s true that damages can technically run to $500,000 per infringement, that simply isn’t done. Not to entities like this firm. Listen, we wrote that law so we could sue people who took from us. It won’t be used against us. We will face, at worst, a few hundred dollars per act of infringement. Still a sizable sum of money, but in the final analysis—”
“Thank you,” Guignol said. “All in favor of offering a settlement?”
It was unanimous—except for Hackelberg.
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