After many earlier rounds of saber-rattling and FUD, Microsoft has announced that Free Software users — including everyone who, like me, uses Ubuntu Linux — are violating at least 235 of Microsoft’s patents, though they don’t say which ones. Microsoft are now threatening end users of GNU/Linux (that’s you and me again) with lawsuits unless we pay them protection money. "Nice operating system you got there, it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it."
The Microsoft position is this: even if you don’t use Windows, you still have to pay them as much money as they would have gotten for selling you a copy of it.
—Microsoft says GNU/Linux violates 235+ Windows patents, Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, Monday, May 14, 2007
Microsoft did stop short of saying it would sue Linux users or its own customers:
If push comes to shove, would Microsoft sue its customers for royalties, the way the record industry has?
"That’s not a bridge we’ve crossed," says CEO Ballmer, "and not a bridge I want to cross today on the phone with you."
— Microsoft takes on the free world, Microsoft claims that free software like Linux, which runs a big chunk of corporate America, violates 235 of its patents. It wants royalties from distributors and users. Users like you, maybe. Fortune’s Roger Parloff reports. By Roger Parloff, Fortune senior editor FORTUNE Magazine, May 14 2007: 9:35 AM EDT
The "free world" allusion, casting Microsoft as Soviet Russia, is amusing. But the record industry reference seems even more appropriate. This reminds me of another recent Microsoft news item.
Microsoft and Best Buy have to stand trial under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO):
Last Friday, the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit against Microsoft and Best Buy which claims that the companies worked together to activate Microsoft’s MSN Internet service and secretly bill customers for the product. According to the suit, Best Buy employees activated trial MSN accounts for customers who purchased products using credit cards but failed to notify them that the trials needed to be explicitly canceled to avoid charges after the trial period expired.
The two companies will be tried under violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. Best Buy customers involved in the suit allege that Microsoft "invested $200 million in Best Buy and agreed to promote Best Buy’s online store through its MSN service." According to a Microsoft spokesperson, the company terminated the trial program at Best Buy in 2003 and offered refunds to those who felt they were deceived and incorrectly charged.
— Microsoft, Best Buy accused of racketeering, By Matt Mondok, Ars Technica, 7 May 2007
I am not a lawyer, but for some reason this brings to mind the radio payola scandals, in which disc jockeys were paid to play certain songs distributed by certain record companies.
Speaking of the recording industry, I wonder if the RIAA’s motion to dismiss its own RICO suit will be accepted, or the case will moved along to a jury trial like the Microsoft one?