Judge nixes class-actions in Microsoft WGA lawsuit

Won't now face hundreds of millions in damages over Windows XP anti-piracy updates

A federal judge has killed class-action allegations in a lawsuit that accused Microsoft of misleading consumers when it fed them anti-piracy software under the auspices of a critical security update, according to court documents.

The move means that Microsoft will not be faced with millions in potential damages. Last fall, Microsoft's lawyers argued that a class-action lawsuit could involve "tens of millions" of customers who might be owed "hundreds of millions of dollars" if the company lost the case.

A class-action would have let virtually anyone who owned a Windows XP PC in mid-2006 to join the case without having to hire an attorney.

In an order filed on Jan. 15, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones denied several motions by the plaintiffs, including one that would have let them modify their complaint a third time, which in turn put an official end to their attempts to turn the case into a class-action lawsuit.

The three-and-a-half-year-old lawsuit claims Microsoft duped customers by labeling its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) software a critical security update, failed to tell them that WGA collected information from their PCs, then frequently "phoned home" that data to Microsoft's servers.

In June 2006, Microsoft began pushing WGA to Windows XP users via Windows Update, the company's default update service, as a "high priority" update that was automatically downloaded and installed to most machines.

Shortly after that, Microsoft acknowledged that WGA transmitted information whenever a user logged on to Windows XP. Under pressure from critics , it later reduced the frequency of the anti-piracy checks.

Microsoft relies on WGA, and its successor, Windows Activation Technologies (WAT), to detect bootlegged copies of Windows. If the software sniffs out a counterfeit, it posts nagging messages on the screen.

Microsoft had opposed the class-action certification last September, at the time calling the lawsuit "fictional," "demonstrably false" and from an "alternate universe."

Last month, the plaintiffs withdrew most, but not all, of their class action allegations, but said they were reserving the right to revisit one of those claims, breach of contract, because an earlier court decision related to that charge is currently on appeal.

In his order of last week, Jones said that all class allegations had to be withdrawn because they "need not be included for appellate purposes and would create unnecessary confusion if they were included."

Jones also said that Microsoft could demand compensation for the money it spent contesting the class-action charges, even though the plaintiffs withdrew most of those allegations prior to trial.

"While Plaintiffs maintain a 'no harm, no foul' perspective, it is too late for that argument," Jones said. "If Plaintiffs had withdrawn their class-certification motion before Microsoft had prepared its Opposition, that would be a 'no harm, no foul' situation. But here, the 'harm' was irreversibly inflicted when Plaintiffs' motion required Microsoft to prepare a defense."

Microsoft has until Feb. 12 to submit its expense list to the court.

Jones also rejected the plaintiffs' motion to add a misrepresentation charge to the lawsuit, and said that they could not change the complaint to seek additional forms of relief from injunction. Earlier this month, Microsoft had called those moves "a cynical attempt to game the system."

The case was once scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 25, but Jones asked counsel for both parties to suggest a new calendar.

Microsoft's anti-piracy software has often made news. In August 2007, a day-long server outage riled thousands of users who were mistakenly fingered for running counterfeit copies of Windows. More recently, hackers revealed ways to bypass Windows 7's activation process .

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Microsoftanti-piracywgalawsuit

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?