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Hardware-software bundling crumbles in France

Lenovo, a symbol of hardware-software bundling, lost a lawsuit in France based on European legal grounds.
Lenovo - IBM - HAL

In 2005, computer hardware manufacturer Lenovo acquired IBM's PC branch, the iconic founder of the PC industry and booster of Microsoft's fortunes with an agreement in the early 1980's. A few years later, this very agreement marked the onset of PS/OS bundling which was to last until today. But the story might soon end, as more and more consumers request refunds from manufacturers for unwanted software licences bundled with computers. These customers are now ready to go to court when manufacturers don't comply. Using a strong legal pressure on any consumer requesting a refund, Lenovo had always managed to escape. Up to now.

The initial story (details in French) is now a classical one (more than 30 rulings issued to date). In 2007, Mr. Pétrus decided to buy a Lenovo laptop. The latter was not offered for sale without a Windows Vista license. As a GNU-Linux user, Mr. Pétrus rejected the Windows Vista End User License Agreement (EULA) and contacted Lenovo to obtain a refund. When his request was denied, he decided to take the case to court.

After a negative ruling in Tarascon (France) in 2008, the French Court of Cassation reversed the judgment in a decisive ruling in November 2010, and sent the case back to small claims court in Aix-en-Provence (France). Just a few weeks ago, in January 2012, a new judgement was issued to replace the initial one (see ruling) : Lenovo must pay the plaintiff 120€ for the software, 800€ for personal damage and 1000€ for legal expenses. To date, it is the heaviest condemnation in a small claims court for such a case.

The current victory symbolizes the crumbling of hardware-software bundling in France. But very significantly, the legal ground is European directive 2005/29/CE on unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market. This means that the legal arguments in Mr. Pétrus's case can be used again in any EU country. Many victories were obtained in France through the combination of a dedicated team from AFUL who published a Guide for consumers and of a talented lawyer who is a genuine free software connoisseur. This lawyer in Poitiers, France, defeated one of the top European lawyers, a former Dartmouth graduate who works for Paul Hastings, appointed by Lenovo for this case worth... 120€ of software licences! Similar free software teams and lawyers will now stand across Europe to broaden this victory and eradicate hardware-software bundling, for the benefit and freedom of choice of all computer users.

Related subjects: Europe, Legal, Racketware, Users, Economics