Microsoft's Monty Python Defense

Cartoon troublemaker Bart Simpson is known for the phrase "I didn't do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can't prove anything." Read today's news and you'll hear something similar from Microsoft. It filed a legal document Tuesday telling Judge Jackson it didn't violate the Sherman Antitrust Act, and even if it did, the government didn't prove it well enough back in November.

The media did their best to spice up the story for an audience weary of Microsoft Corp. shenanigans. Wired News reporter Declan McCullagh led with an amusing left-handed compliment: "Proclaiming your virtue after a judge has dubbed you a noxious reprobate is not a trivial task, but Microsoft on Tuesday made a valiant effort to defend its corporate honor."

A Wall Street Journal article entitled "Microsoft Cites Monty Python in Defense Against Antitrust Case" surely attracted readers with its sheer oddness. In 1976, the British comedy troupe won a case against ABC, who had edited seven minutes from its 30-minute show. "Microsoft likened ABC's editing to the government's demand that personal computer makers should be allowed to customize or alter the appearance of Windows when it first comes up on a user's computer screen," wrote WSJ reporter John Wilke. MS also cited a 1982 ruling that protects copyrighted work from unauthorized changes. Interestingly enough, that ruling had been made by Judge Richard Posner, the federal mediator in the Microsoft monopoly case.

Some journalists - who are to be congratulated for reviewing both Microsoft's 70-page rebuttal and Judge Jackson's 207-page findings of fact - showed Microsoft's legal spin doctors hard at work. "With an artisan's care, Microsoft lifted favorable sentiments from Jackson's findings," wrote the Washington Post's David Segal. "For instance, the company quotes Jackson's finding that 'Microsoft did not actually prevent users from obtaining and using' the Netscape Web browser, leaving out the next few words of the sentence:

'(although they tried to do as much in 1995).'" The New York Times agreed that "the brief appeared to pick and choose from among the judge's findings to highlight those that appeared to support the company's case."

Microsoft also announced Tuesday that its second-quarter profits were up 22 percent to $2.44 billion, clobbering analysts' expectations. Microsoft's jubilant financial announcement came, wrote AP's Ted Bridis, "even as its lawyers argued that it wasn't the industry titan described by the government."

D'oh!

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