Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Microsoft "jurisdiction shopping" threatens the global Internet

Michael Robertson, the founder of Lindows (a Linux-based desktop operating system), writes from direct, personal, painful experience with Microsoft:
Microsoft is trying to shut Lindows down using any tactic. Two years ago they asked a US court to shut down our website, and they were denied. They tried again and were denied. Then they snuck off and asked courts in Finland to block the Lindows website. (They did not reference the US actions.) Lindows did not know this, so we were not able to oppose them. The judge blocked sales of Lindows to Finnish citizens, but refused to block the web site. Microsoft did not let us know about this ruling. They then asked the Swedish courts there to block our web site and sales. Again the Judge refused to block web site, but did block sales. Once again, Lindows was not given any notice.

Then Microsoft went to the Netherlands. They found a jurisdiction to rule that simply viewing the website is forbidden and demanded that we block it. Microsoft knows there is no way to effectively block only residents of the Netherlands, short of shutting down our website to all visitors worldwide. They are asking the court to fine us $124,000 per day for every day that Dutch citizens can view our website.

We are witnessing how an established company can simply sue another company that threatens it in country after country until they achieve the outcome they desire. After 5 tries, Microsoft located a court which would give them what they want. Now is forced to not-comply and risk massive financial penalties or shutdown our entire website.

I want to be clear about our position. We are not disputing the jurisdiction of the Netherlands. I believe it's important to honor the rule of law. After the ruling against us, we put up a notice on every page of our web site. We halted both digital and physical sales from Lindows to the affected countries. We removed links on our website to our resellers in those countries. We sent out notices to our resellers. But the bigger question is this: just because our servers are connected to the Internet, does that mean that anyone else connected to the same wires can dictate what we do with our servers in the US?

Would it be OK for a foreign judge to rule that if someone calls my U.S. office from another country that I cannot utter the word 'Lindows' when I answer the phone? Worse yet, if I answered the phone would I incur a fine of $124,000 per day? Our phones may be connected to some of the same wires that a web visitor would travel when connecting to the web site. Every Net citizen should be worried.
[I've edited the above a lot. Robertson's original exact words are here.]

If Microsoft succeeds, we're heading for a 'net as balkanized as today's Instant Messaging Mess. That would be intolerable.

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