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The Stupidest Lawsuit Since the World Began
Tuesday, July 12 2005 @ 07:14 AM EDT

I know. You think you already know the stupidest lawsuit since the world began, and indeed I once described it that way to a journalist myself. Then recently, we saw litigation efforts that knocked it down as king of that mountain. But now I have the winner, for sure.

I know you will all try to top me right away with examples of your own you have saved in the backwaters of your computer because you just couldn't believe your eyes when you read about them, and that is fine. Go ahead and try to top me, but I'll tell you as a friend, you might as well give up this exact minute, because you can't prevail. I have found the really and truly stupidest lawsuit of all time.

Actually, Alan Hargreaves found it and then told me about it, so I guess the trophy goes on his mantlepiece, not mine. According to the Sydney Morning Herald [sub req'd], a transit company is suing a group of ten cleaning women in France, because they are car pooling instead of continuing to use their service. The Guardian has the story too. The number comes from this French account. The transit company lawyers call that "unfair and parasitical competition." They are asking for damages, including fines and -- believe it or not -- confiscation of the women's cars.

Here's a snip from the article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The women, who live in Moselle and work five days a week at European Union offices in Luxembourg, are being sued by Transports Schiocchet Excursions, which runs a service along the route. It wants the women fined and their cars confiscated.

Two years ago a business tribunal threw out the company's case. It is now pursuing the women in a higher court, saying their action has cost it €2 million ($3.2 million).

The women explained that for many years cleaners used the company line for the 40-minute ride across the border, which cost them €110 a month.

"Using our cars is quicker and at least twice as cheap. And on the bus we didn't have the right to eat or even to speak," said Martine Bourguignon.

Their cars confiscated, no less. And "millions" in losses claimed from 10 cleaning women. If I've understood the French, their theory of the bus company claim is that it was given the exclusive right to transport folks on that route. The women have reduced their ridership, they say, by introducing illegal competition, and I gather they are calling it that in a telephone campaign one woman describes as an attempt to ruin their reputation:

"Ils nous accusent essentiellement d'inciter au covoiturage alors que nous n'avons aucun droit de regard sur le mode de transport de notre personnel," explique Frédéric Sirerol, directeur d'Onet-Luxembourg. "Nous sommes atterrés par le comportement de cette société qui poursuit ces dames et les suit pour voir combien de kilomètres elles font. Ils ont aussi appelé certains de nos clients pour dire que nous nous mettions hors la loi en ce qui concerne les conventions de transport entre la France et le Luxembourg. C'est une façon de noircir notre image. Et ils font preuve d'un acharnement par la voie juridique très étrange."

They follow the women around to see how much mileage they are putting in with the car pooling, it says. See? Not even Daniel Wallace can top that, I don't think, although we must give him an E for effort. Actually, they are kind of in the same ball park, if you think about it. He claims that the GPL is destroying the market for proprietary software, ubiquitous evidence of a Microsoft monopoly notwithstanding. He would like to outlaw people being allowed to help each other by sharing GPL'd software code. The bus company wants to outlaw women helping each other get to and from work more cheaply and in a better environment.

Two years of this nonsense, plus however long it took to get to court the first time. Can you imagine? And after losing in the lower court, they are determined to pursue these poor women. Cleaning women. My hat is off to their lawyers, because they are almost certainly working for less than they could from another client.

The first clue should have been a transit company telling its riders, women at that, they were not allowed to talk for 40 minutes. That is inhuman.

Yes, friends, it's a metaphor. In proprietary software, you aren't allowed to share information either, and at least one monopoly's software and its licenses tries to control your behavior, what you are allowed to do. But when a group of programmers got together to fix that problem and presented the world with software that gets you where you want to go on your computer more cheaply and reliably and in a better, freer environment, the lawsuits begin to fly. Andrew had trouble imagining it happening in software:

Can anyone imagine, say, a software monopoly trying to use the courts to ensure their monopoly instead of various questionable tactics, which have landed them in court?

How dare they distibute their software freely. That hurts our sales! Sue them for anti-competitive behaviour! Somehow I can't even see that particular monopoly sinking to this kind of low. That needs a little clarification. What I mean is I can't see them going to court and directly using the argument "This behaviour is taking sales away from us, make them stop."

I told him to read Groklaw more assiduously, naturally, as he is not keeping up. Monopolies don't have to sue anybody. They can get surrogates to do it for them. SCO got buckets of money and some supportive words in public from Microsoft and friends, did they not? SCO also claims the GPL is ruining the market, if you recall. Wallace just happens to be parroting their message, with his own ... um... well, special logic on top, which is just a coincidence, I'm sure. Here's his latest "legal scholarship," an opposition [PDF] to Red Hat and Novell's Motion to Dismiss his Complaint. He still is missing a vital piece, but far be it from me to explain it to him. He'd just file to amend again, so if you figure out what he didn't get right, don't tell him please. We can talk later.

So, there you have it. The stupidest lawsuit in the history of the world. But also the meanest. When did business get so mean? And so stupid? I think it's safe to say that those ten women will never use that bus service to get anywhere on planet earth again, no matter what happens in court. And frankly, if the only way to stay in business is to sue your departing customers, furious at them because they've found something better, it's time to look at what you are offering. Maybe it's your business model that is your problem, or it could be your personality, the way you treat your customers or your competition. People don't like bullies. We're hard-wired that way.

That reminds me. I've heard SCO is offering its partners a free copy of their new software offering, Legend, that they can sell to their customers, if they will please buy one first and attend SCOForum 2005, which is from August 7-9, 2005 (" . . . we're happy to announce that all Forum attendees will receive a free, fully-licensed copy of either the Starter Edition (valued at $599) or the Enterprise Edition (valued at $1399) you can resell to your customers.*") The star takes you to this info in a footnote: "*All who attend Forum 2005 will receive a free fully-licensed copy of OpenServer 6 that is of equal or lesser value to your purchased copy of Starter Edition or Enterprise Edition through a SCO distributor."

Equal or lesser, eh? Hmm. That's a new one. And if they'll book their stay for SCOForum at the MGM Grand Hotel, SCO will waive the $300 conference fee. Sounds like they reeeeally want you to go. Maybe hordes of partners are not registering in record numbers? You think?

At least they've figured out that you have to offer people something they want if you want them to work with you. If they could extrapolate to customers, they might be able to save themselves. Well, maybe not. Those cleaning women would probably prefer to walk than to use that bus service now. And surely no one reading about that litigation will want to ride that bus either. There is something about being a human being that we naturally love justice and freedom, and there is no extinguishing it from our hearts. If a business acts like a bully, mean as a snake, it's going to lose customers. It's as certain as gravity. If you jump off a cliff, you will fall down, not up, every time. SCO jumped off a cliff when it attacked Linux unjustly and sued its own customers for switching to it. A decline after such egregious behavior is as predictable as a law of nature.


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