AOL lays out legal defence over version 5.0 class actions

There isn't a case. Simple.

The class action against AOL is due to arrive in Miami's District Court on 2 March, and the Internet giant has laid out its legal defence.

The action - a conglomeration of several filed early last year - is seeking compensation for damaged caused to people's computers thanks to version 5.0 of its software. The software, it is claimed, stopped customers from connecting to the Net through any ISP except AOL, and fiddled about with system settings in order to tie in consumers. This has the effect of crashing some computers and causing constant error messages to pop up on others.

Amazingly, when AOL produced version 6.0 at the end of last year, the same problems were encountered.

There is no doubt that AOL attempted to tie in customers. The software is thought to have changed around 200 files and there is no way that most users would know how to get round it. And that this monkeying about caused PCs to go haywire is not disputed - but is AOL legally to blame for it?

No, says AOL (unsurprisingly). It has no case to answer because users signed up to AOL's Ts&Cs when they decided to install the software. Of course, these contain clauses to the effect that AOL isn't to blame if the software screws up their PC. Legally, it's a fair point. Plus, without this proviso AOL would be nuts to put any software out there.

Ah! But the Ts&Cs don't appear until after you downloaded the software and by then the damage is done, say the defendants. Besides, AOL is culpable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. No we're not, says AOL. For the Act to be used there has to be over $5,000 worth of damage. The question is: will this hold up legally? There may not be $5,000 damage to a single PC but in total, damage stretches into millions.

And hang on, cry the offended. AOL distributed this saying it was "risk free" and "easy to use". Clearly it wasn't. "What you actually believe that guff?" said AOL [actually, we've made that bit up]. We suspect the court case will be unfeasibly dull, so we may have to just cover the final decision if that's alright. ®

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