Antitrust

Sue the Bastards!

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Perhaps British computer users can help take down Microsoft. That seems to be the view of the U.S. Justice Department.

In an interview printed in the London Observer in August, DOJ lead attorney David Boies encouraged British citizens to sue the U.S.-based software giant, making use of a little-known statute regarding compensation for foreigners harmed by a "U.S.-based pricing conspiracy." The statute, though seldom used, entitles anyone outside the U.S. to the same compensation U.S. citizens would receive under antitrust law. So if the courts do find Microsoft guilty of anticompetitive practices, the DOJ wants the Brits to pile on. Furthermore, explained Boies, not every individual British purchaser of Windows would have to file suit–only enough to substantiate a class action. Using the estimate of a £10 overcharge ($16 U.S.), the Observer calculated that the windfall to British citizens would total about $482 million, making it lucrative for U.S. lawyers to represent them.

Boies' interview lends credence to a Senate Judiciary Committee suspicion that the Justice Department is encouraging foreign governments with weaker standards for antitrust violations to take legal action against Microsoft. In July 1998, three members of the committee asked Attorney General Janet Reno for a detailed account of Antitrust Division officials' contacts with foreign governments. Reno refused to answer on the grounds that Justice could not "divulge non-public information on pending law enforcement matters." A curious–and perhaps telling–response, since no such information should be contained in the materials the senators requested.