Microsoft’s Minnesota settlement

The software company will pay as much as $59 million in attorneys’ fees and a face value of $174.5 million in vouchers for purchasers, although many or most will apparently never get redeemed. A Microsoft spokesman said the company believed it had a solid defense but “settled to avoid the potential of a jury verdict that favored the plaintiffs, and to avoid disruption at the company. ‘How much is a week’s worth of Bill Gates’ time to shareholders? A lot,’ he said,” referring to the expected appearance of the company chief at trial. (Gregg Aamot, “Microsoft to Pay Up to $241 Million in Minnesota Class Action”, AP/Law.com, Jul. 2). More on MS settlements: Mar. 31 and links from there.

The incomparable James Lileks (Jul. 7) describes the settlement much more entertainingly than we have done above (“Microsoft once again promised to hand over its wallet if the kicking stopped, and agreed to remain rolled in a fetal position until the money is counted. …. When it came to distribute the organs of the corpse the lawyers got the liver, spleen, lungs and most of the brain; the consumers got some regulatory glands, some teeth and a selection of minor toes.”). Then he goes on to notice that it contains a remarkable provision:

they need higher participation rates, since it looks bad when you advocate on behalf of an Inflamed Public that turns out to be utterly indifferent to the supposed offense. So the state has come up with a novel means of informing citizens that Microsoft owes them money. It was buried at the end of the story in the local paper last week.

The state will subpoena local computer resellers to learn who bought PCs.

Maybe it?s just me, but: imagine the outcry if the Justice Department decided it wanted a database of computer ownership in America. Who had what. Oh no you don?t would be the general reaction, even if people couldn?t quite explain why they didn’t like the idea. It smacks of typewriter-registration laws in totalitarian states, even though we all know no one will kick down the door and demand to know where you put that 386 you bought in ’92. But this is the mindset of the well-intentioned government lawyer: gee, people might not claim their rebates. How about we use the power of the state to force private businesses to turn over customer lists so we can mail informational material to computer owners? It?s for their own good.

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