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Refusenik attorneys want $14-$38bn from MS

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Microsoft's cunning wheeze of dumping shedloads of free software (free to both involved parties, really) on IT-deprived US schools will be challenged today by a rival bunch of attorneys. The free deal was negotiated by Washington attorney Michael Hausfeld, and is allegedly worth $1 billion. But the refuseniks reckon Redmond should really have to cough up the considerably more bracing, and more than a little elastic, sum of $14.3-$38.6 billion.

It's not entirely clear how either of those figures was arrived at, but Terry Gross of Gross & Belsky, one of the Californian ringleaders, has previously estimated that the class action covers around ten million users in California alone. The attorneys' estimate of the tab Microsoft should settle for California is from $3-$9 billion, hence you can calculate that at $300-$900 per Californian Windows user.

Seems a bit steep? Well, a study carried out for the attorneys reckoned that Californian users were overcharged an average of $151, which is a figure large enough to be significant but small enough for people not to notice. A guilty verdict in the suit could lead to tripling of damages, getting us to $450, which is not of course $900, but neatly inside the $3-9 billion.

The even bigger numbers take into account the other 16 States whose antitrust law prudently allows suits on behalf of people other than direct purchasers. In the remaining US States you can only sue the outfit you purchased the goods from for overcharging, and as very few people will have actually purchased directly from Microsoft, quite a few of the first suits that were filed were thrown out. The schools deal is therefore reasonable for some of the people suing Microsoft, because it's better than nothing, while the (international) telephone numbers the Californians and friends see make them disinclined to let Redmond off the hook so cheaply.

The attorneys will be objecting to the proposed deal to a federal judge in Baltimore later today. ®

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