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Lobbying Could Cause Legal Trouble for Microsoft 138

Posted by Zonk
from the keep-it-above-board-maybe dept.
Rob Isn't Weird writes "In the wake of the exposure of Microsoft's attempt to buy Sweden's vote on OOXML and Sweden's annulment of that vote due to irregularities, IBM's Rob Weir points out that the fiasco could cause anti-trust worries for Microsoft. He quotes ALLIED TUBE & CONDUIT CORP. v. INDIAN HEAD, INC., 486 U.S. 492 (1988), which says 'What petitioner may not do (without exposing itself to possible antitrust liability for direct injuries) is bias the process by, as in this case, stacking the private standard-setting body with decision makers sharing their economic interest in restraining competition.'"
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Lobbying Could Cause Legal Trouble for Microsoft

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  • by Pojut (1027544) on Friday August 31, 2007 @05:02PM (#20428837) Homepage
    Anyone able to translate this into normal-speak?

    Oh, and because it's required...Fist Psot, or whatever the first post trolls are saying nowadays...
    • by Xybre (527810)
      Basically all it says is that companies can't bias lobbying decisions in it's favor by flooding the voting polls with paid supporters.

      Oh, and you didn't get first post.
  • by iamacat (583406) on Friday August 31, 2007 @05:03PM (#20428841)
    to quote a US law in a swedish case? There is a little matter of sovereignty.
    • by KevMar (471257)
      there is just no way that they would do anything like that here in the US....

      I think the jump is if they do it out side the US, we should check to see if they do the same thing here.
    • In particular, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Of course, IANAL.
      • Yes, but the jurisdiction of US law doesn't stretch to Scandinavia.
        Domestically, one could summarize the DoJ (irrespective of administration in power) as saying to Redmond: "Stop, or I will say 'stop' again."
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bloater (12932)
          US law extends over most of the world, they just normally can't arrest you until you set foot on US soil - and microsoft is in seattle right now.

          If you're unlucky enough to live in the UK, for the last few years you've had to understand US law to avoid being arrested here just doing normal everyday things. Three top bank managers were extradited not long ago for engaging in business practices from the UK that are legal to engage in under British law but illegal under US law. The UK is the 51st state - other
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Darth (29071)
            If you are talking about he guys picked up for having previously been involved in banking for online casinos, I'm pretty sure they weren't extradited. They were picked up on U.S. soil in an airport while making a connection on a trip.

            (it is still a stupid law and it was a stupid arrest, but it did happen on U.S. soil)

            • by Bloater (12932)
              No, they arranged an investment deal for one of their customers... Enron
              Their work was apparently carried out in the UK and they were definitely extradited (well one of them had a heart attack from the stress)
              • No, they arranged an investment deal for one of their customers... Enron
                Doah... Enron money was probably illegally gained money and any investment of it would be difficult to tell from say money laundering from organized crime. Yeah that would stress me out to; you'd think that British bankers might think that that was a transaction where the bar for due diligence might be a bit higher than normal.
                • by Bloater (12932)
                  > Doah... Enron money was probably illegally gained money

                  As I say, they weren't tried in British courts which suggests whatever they did, it wasn't illegal here.
              • by Darth (29071)
                ah. ok.

                different event. I don't know that i ever heard about that one.
          • At least you used the word extradited in the proper context.
            Furthermore, you seem to imply that extradition treaties are a one-way street. I'm reasonably certain that if you commit a crime in the EU, and your flesh happens to be in the US, you'll be turned over upon arrest here.
            Governments have been colluding like that for a many a year now.
            Of course, there are times when governments do engage in a bit of "urinary struggle" over individuals, too.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Bloater (12932)
              Nono, these guys were in the UK and did something legal in the UK (allegedly - which seems to be supported by the fact that they weren't tried for breaking British law) but were arrested and extradited to the US because the US forbids what they did. Simply put, the US laws apply to the UK, the UK is a jurisdiction of the USA - if they ban it in the USA you must also not do it in the UK or you could be lifted.
            • by cortana (588495)
              Tell that to all the PIRA members living free in the US.
          • Could you provide enough info for a google? And another example or two? As an American, I've got reason to wonder about what kind of stupidity the Bush Administration is releasing into the world in our names.
            • by Bloater (12932)
              It was the "Halifax Three" and another poster gave a link to wikipedia. It seems they are accused in the USA of doing something that may well be illegal in the UK which may have unfairly disadvantaged only a British company but the Crown Prosecution Service decided that they shouldn't be tried under UK law, which I am assuming means that either it wasn't illegal in the UK through some technicality or it whatever the actually did is simply morally acceptable by British standards.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31, 2007 @05:24PM (#20429027)
      Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [usdoj.gov] is one example where overseas actions can be prosecuted inside the USA. IANAL, so I'm not going to claim that it does apply to Microsoft, especially when I think it's a criminal statute that would have to be prosecuted by the DoJ. I don't even know if there's any civil right of action in there. If there are any lawyers out there, feel free to chime in.

      Now then, did you note that this was an IBM guy saying this? Given that Rob's blog covers approximately two things--brewing and OOXML--I'd have to say that he learned about this law from the Nazgul (IBM lawyers, for you young'uns) because I don't think Rob is a lawyer, either. And I don't think normal people go around reading and quoting 20 year old anti-trust cases for fun.

      So if IBM is examining something like that, especially when we have Microsoft doing other things like funding SCO, I'd say to stay tuned, because we just might see fireworks in the future. It wouldn't be the first anti-trust action against Microsoft by any means. Mind you, this is 100% speculation, but what do you expect on Slashdot?
      • by khb (266593) on Friday August 31, 2007 @07:12PM (#20429869)
        Assuming that the reason Rob knows this case law is because IBM's lawyers are discussing it is ... specious. If Rob is involved (or ever has been involved) in a formal Standards process (e.g. served as an ANSI officer) he probably got a briefing (I did when I was ;>). Various bits of arcane anti-trust trivia are shot at the poor volunteer, in the attempt to ensure that a handful of someones in the room during deliberations have a clue as to what is, and what is not legitimate discourse. Otherwise ANSI would lose it's special standing (which permits competitors to meet "safely" in terms of Anti-Trust. This is, of course, purely US experience ... but many other countries have similar systems.

        This is just one o many ways that Rob could have been exposed to such things sans IBM lawyer involvement.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mabhatter654 (561290)
        this is exactly why companies are pushing to keep the anti-trust case open a little longer. The current remedy is toothless, but it's like double-secret probation. As long as it's in place there's somebody to take this too. Sort of like grandma being able to get the PO officer to rattle a wayward kid's cage. I'd agree that while this can't be "prosecuted" in the US, "probation" if you call what M$ is on now doesn't matter what's "legal" it matters what the watcher "believes" is legal and in the spirit of
    • by MathFox (686808)
      US law isn't binding for the European Commission, but I can imagine that Mrs. Kroes would like to ask some questions regarding this topic to Microsoft. There seems to be a pattern of unduly influencing the votes of national standardization bodies throughout the EU.
      Things wouldn't look too bad for Microsoft if it didn't meet Mrs. Kroes in her position as "Competition Commissioner" before or if they didn't make a lasting impression in the encounters before. I am pretty sure that Microsoft's assault on the IS
    • by vidarh (309115) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Friday August 31, 2007 @05:50PM (#20429199) Homepage Journal
      It's not a "swedish case". Its about how a US corporation or its subsidiaries behavior in Sweden might make it liable under US anti-trust laws in the US because the actions in Sweden might be aimed at affecting the competitive landscape in the US to.

      It's clearly for US courts to decide if a US corporation affects the US competitive landscape.

    • by HardCase (14757)
      Indeed - and it isn't even quoting US law. The author is attempting to twist a Supreme Court decision against a domestic company that influenced a domestic standards agency. And not just any standards agency, but the one that generates the standard electrical code that is at the heart of municipal building ordinances.

      And, to boot, if a law was broken, it was not in the US. Maybe Swedish law is different in this regard, because I can't imagine that a US court will decide that it has jurisdiction over an i
    • by Z00L00K (682162)
      The law may be applicable anyway - figure that if you commit a murder while abroad - do you expect to stay free when you come home? (unless your government sanctioned it, but that's a different question).

      Anyway - There is a Swedish authority named Konkurrensverket (Swedish Competition Authority) [konkurrensverket.se] that has some influence in matters like this. Maybe you should send them an email with your opinions?

      • by iamacat (583406)
        As far as I understand, you will be extradited if a) the country where crime took place requests it, b) sufficient evidence is given according to standards set by american law and c) there is an extradition treaty. For example, if a european citizen chose to volunteer in a firing squad as part of US death penalty, he will probably be Ok, even though the same conduct would be considered murder in his home country. Now consider African countries where murder is effectively not illegal because of absence of ef
        • by dryeo (100693)
          Not sure about the States but in Canada the other consideration is the punishment. eg we won't extradite to a country with the death penalty for the crime excepting an agreement that the death penalty won't be used.
    • by gweihir (88907)
      to quote a US law in a swedish case? There is a little matter of sovereignty.

      US law applies everywhere on the planed. At least they are acting like it....
    • by toby (759) *
      There is no sovereignty in the "post-9/11 world"...

      Google for NAFTA-Plus for an example.

      Or research Australia's history. Australia lost its sovereignty to the US 32 years ago.
    • This really transcends sovereignty because it involves international standards, and by establishing OOXML as an ISO standard it will greatly enhance Microsoft's ability to market their product not only in Sweden but in others countries including the USA. Basically you have to read the law, some says something like "It's illegal for anyone in the United States to ..." then being outside the United Sates removes you from US juridiction; however if the law is missing the "in the United States" part then you st
      • by iamacat (583406)
        If your a guy like Noreaga, bin Laden, or Hussein life can become difficult.

        Certainly our record is not great at apprehending such people, especially on timely basis.
        • 2 out of 3 ain't bad, especially considering that the third, bin Laden, has to live like a cockroach hiding under a rock.
  • The actions were in Sweden.
    • by smist08 (1059006)
      I think the assumption here is that they are doing the same thing in the US where it is not only un-ethical but illegal.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Nimey (114278)
      US laws apply everywhere.

      That's what Republicans believe, anyway, and they will act on that belief (trade agreements, etc.)
      • by catman (1412)
        Yeah. I just found out that if I send a $ contribution to a US blogger, my Norwegian bank will have to send personal information about me to US authorities. DHS, I guess.
        Sigh. I would really like to visit Maine again some day, but at my present age of 65 I may not live long enough to make such a trip both enjoyable and in (relative) privacy. Oh well, "We'll always have Bath", I guess.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by josteos (455905)
      If Sweden had oil then maybe Bush would try to liberate its citizens and *FINALLY* bring democracy to those poor, oppressed people. Along with US laws. And Haliburton & Blackwater Security, of course.

      • by init100 (915886)

        Given the popularity of Bush here, if we'd have more civilians with guns, you'd be facing a new Iraq.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by josteos (455905)
          See... if Bush invades Sweden he'd bring more Freedom. Like, the Freedom to have more guns. So you could defend yourself against the Enemies of Freedom. Enemies like Bush. Its just a vicious circle.

          Now if we colonized Sweden we'd dramatically increase our odds of getting another medal in Olympic hockey. Hmmmm.... On the plus side, I understand Yankee taxes are lower than Swedish taxes. The downside is you'd get Michel Moore coming over and making movies all the time.

    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday August 31, 2007 @05:28PM (#20429065)
      Where the action occurred is probably of little consequence to US antitrust law; what will matter is the intended and actual effect on US market position. I think its pretty hard to argue that Microsoft isn't pushing for ISO standardization as a way to reinforce (among other things) the US market position of Office, and Allied Tube suggests that the particular means being used may be antitrust violations in that context.
    • The actions were in Sweden.

      Yeah, but the corporation is in the US. You can't just do anything you want because you do it in a foreign country. Just like you can't not-pay US taxes because you do your business in Sweden... International Law treaties are far more complex than just "If you do stuff in CountryX you are not liable in CountryY"
      • by JonJ (907502)
        If Microsoft is breaking Swedish law, then Sweden could easily fine Microsoft. Even if internation treaties exists, it does not mean you are free to break national laws. And using US law as a defense is a very poor defense at best.
  • ho hum (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31, 2007 @05:07PM (#20428889)
    Unfortunately for us lowly citizens, US law only *theoretically* applies to Microsoft.
  • Sorry, this is a little off-topic, but I'm curious. I don't really get the specifics of the whole "lobbying" process. Is it just a roundabout way to go about bribing an official? Pay them off prior to them being elected, and threaten to not give them money next election if they don't vote in your favour?

    But if so, how did this situation come about? Does Microsoft pre-emptively make campaign contributions to political candidates in major markets just in case such a vote has to be passed? Or do they promise c
  • by KillerCow (213458) on Friday August 31, 2007 @05:16PM (#20428969)
    ...in three easy steps...

    1) Get hired at Microsoft
    2) Use your MS email address to offer bribes to public officials without management knowledge
    3) Enjoy anti-trust actions

    For anything to stick, they would have to show that there was some management involvement. A corporation is not one single mind.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      Use your MS email address to offer bribes to public officials without management knowledge

      Actually, if they were public officials rather than a private standard-setting body, Allied Tube wouldn't apply.

      For anything to stick, they would have to show that there was some management involvement. A corporation is not one single mind.

      A corporation is, however, a single legal person, and to escape liability for the actions of its employees often (especially in a civil rather than criminal case) must demonstrate th

    • That's fun to imagine, but you know that no M$ employee could do something so out of bounds. We've seen the months of effort it takes to get approval for anything in the story of M$'s entry to web search and in Joe's Excel work. Both decisions were overseen by Bill Gates himself along with lots of other brass. We've also seen what happens to ordinary employees who write something wrong in their blog. [slashdot.org]

      In this case, it's clearly a concerted effort. Weir points out similar outrageous and crazy behavior fro

  • Whoa whoa whoa, wait... Indian Head? Are you saying, Microsoft outsourced Bill Gates?
  • Although I consider OOXML to be an abomination, at this point Microsoft could be seen as trying to introduce competition. This seems to be more directly related to stacking "no" votes.
    • Although I consider OOXML to be an abomination, at this point Microsoft could be seen as trying to introduce competition.


      Right. Microsoft is just a little-guy competitor trying to break into the office suite market dominated by OpenOffice.org which is virtually without serious competition, not a dominant player desperately trying to fend off a challenge to its dominance.
      • by Trillan (597339)
        No, but OpenDoc is already approved. Nobody's trying to block OpenDoc's approval (mind you, only because it's too late).
  • the D.O.J should force microsoft to use open file formats such as ODF in their office products...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument [wikipedia.org]
    • by Danse (1026)

      the D.O.J should force microsoft to use open file formats such as ODF in their office products...

      That's the sort of thing that sensible people were proposing when the DOJ had Microsoft in a position where they were going to lose and knew they would have to make reforms. Unfortunately, the open file formats and APIs people were being drowned out by the "split up Microsoft!" and "remove IE from Windows!" people, even though those remedies would do virtually nothing to solve the real problems.

  • Is that how it's done?

     
  • What's the upshot of all this anyways?
    Even if OOXML gets approved for ISO don't we still have a choice? Won't ODF still be there?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nuzak (959558)
      > Even if OOXML gets approved for ISO don't we still have a choice? Won't ODF still be there?

      Sure, but will government offices with public records use it? No, they'll choose the "standard".

      Frankly, I don't think OOXML is all that satanic, nor is ODF all that perfect, but the latter is definitely more focused on an actual document format rather than encoding all the goofy idiosyncratic semantics of an office app with XML tags. And MS's behavior is definitely not above board here.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ozmanjusri (601766)
        Frankly, I don't think OOXML is all that satanic

        Try to implement an app that will round-trip MOOXML through MS Office editing, then get back to us.

        I think you'll find it's not possible to use MOOXML unless you're Microsoft.

        • I think you'll find it's not possible to use MOOXML unless you're Microsoft.
          Actually it appears that it's not even possible to implement if you are Microsoft as shown by Stéphane Rodriguez [blogspot.com] Office doesn't obey this specification as it is defined.
    • by caseih (160668)
      Sure but nothing will actually support it, and those products that do support it will support it in a half-baked, crippled way. MS always used to make sure Word could read WordPerfect documents perfectly, but couldn't create them worth a darn. Expect this type of behavior to continue.

      If OOXML does get ISO approved, expect to see all the major packages support it in some fashion, while MS moves on with MSOOXML and kills off all the competition as they fruitlessly try to implement OOXML in a way that's comp
      • by Erris (531066) on Friday August 31, 2007 @06:50PM (#20429713) Homepage Journal

        Sure but nothing will actually support it, and those products that do support it will support it in a half-baked, crippled way. MS always used to make sure Word could read WordPerfect documents perfectly, but couldn't create them worth a darn. Expect this type of behavior to continue.

        Office 2007 does not even have working support of older M$ formats. Footnote numbering is broken if you save OOXML to WORD.DOC and macros are broken between versions of Excel. I expect to hear similar things powerpoint and other formats as a few foolish people around me continue their Office 2007 trial. As usual, data goes in but does not come out and you can't really co-operate with people who are not on the same point release.

        This is stunning behavior, even for M$. A reasonable XML format should support all previous version behavior perfectly because the internal representation does not have to change. The transition should be easier than any previous M$ Office "upgrade" but it is in fact worse than others. For all of their bluster, they have not lived up to the 6,000 pages of specs they are now trying to force on the world as an ISO standard. Un-Fucking-Believable.

    • by pembo13 (770295)
      Do you have a choice of receiving .doc files?
    • by MMC Monster (602931) on Friday August 31, 2007 @08:33PM (#20430347)

      What's the upshot of all this anyways?
      Even if OOXML gets approved for ISO don't we still have a choice? Won't ODF still be there?
      What's the point of a standard when there is a multiplicity of them? The amount of work required to create an OOXML-compliant office suite could probably be used to better the ODF standard (or at least implement it better). If the same people have to implement two different standards for the same software, either one of the standards will not be implemented as well, or less features will be available in the software since the programmer had to waste time with an extra data format.
    • by jesterzog (189797) on Friday August 31, 2007 @11:32PM (#20431147) Homepage Journal

      Even if OOXML gets approved for ISO don't we still have a choice?

      I don't know about you, but I certainly won't. Organisations and governments everywhere will choose to use OOXML on the basis that it's an approved ISO standard. People who pay for Microsoft products will be fine (in the short an medium term, at least). Everyone who doesn't will be screwed.

      Standards organisations such as the ISO exist to consider standards seriously so that other organisations don't have to, and a lot of trust is put in them. At a time when standards are finally coming to be seen as important by many organisations, Microsoft is trying to make a mockery of the standards-creation process, undermining the ISO and all its stakeholders so it can keep itself on top without actually providing a real, genuine standard.

  • Arrogance (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rossz (67331) <ogre@nOsPaM.geekbiker.net> on Friday August 31, 2007 @06:11PM (#20429433) Homepage Journal
    The main problem with Microsoft is arrogance. They believe they have the right to do whatever the hell they want. Screw the laws, they don't apply, "We're Microsoft! We're special!" In reality, that's been true. So they were declared an illegal monopoly. So what happened to them? Basically, not a god damn thing. The courts told them to take a 10 minute time-out in the corner, and let them off after only 5 minutes. So of course Microsoft thinks they can do anything they want, because they have been getting away with doing anything they want. Microsoft is incapable of believing the normal rules apply to them. And the more they get away with shit, the more firmly entrenched they will be in this belief and these kinds of kinds of actions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ianare (1132971)
      It's good to be the king :-)
    • It's not arrogance, if it's accurate. The worst that could happen to msft is that they have to pay a fine, or pay a settlement.

      Since msft has $30 Billion in the bank, what do they care?
    • Re:Arrogance (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Friday August 31, 2007 @11:55PM (#20431223)
      Actually, the main problem with Microsoft is that they have absolutely no confidence in their own ability to compete. They are desperately looking for some way to cheat the system in order to win. It's rather pathetic, really, as any company that had any confidence in itself would simply use that confidence with some backbone and produce a high quality product that people would prefer to use.

      The movement to Linux isn't because it's cheaper. The movement to Linux is because it's better-- in particular, because it doesn't try to bundle stuff in that you don't need and don't want simply because the developer wants extra lock-ins, subscription payments or is getting payola to add DRM from media companies. Linux is better because it leaves control over your computer system in your hands. The marketplace would often pay extra for such capabilities-- the fact that Linux is low cost is mostly irrelevant to its success. In the early days of the PC, many corporations didn't know much about computers and trusted companies like Microsoft out of their ignorance, and because the risk was relatively low. Now however, their entire business is running on computers and they now realize that trusting the future of such a critical resource can no longer be left in the hands of others-- they require the control that Linux can give them and Microsoft refuses to.

      Microsoft's only way out of this mess is to let go of the OS and focus on products that will run on Linux or other open environments. They'll be dragged kicking and screaming into that though, as they've seen the OS as their core competency (obviously why they have no confidence in themselves-- as it's actually become their core incompetency). It'll happen eventually, as the OS is nothing but an application delivery system and as such must be as fully open and empowering as any common carrier. Microsoft was blindsided by the Internet, and even more so by the need for the open OS-- so much so that they're still blind to its critical importance to the future of computing.
      • by aralin (107264)
        Actually, the main problem with Microsoft is that they have absolutely no confidence in their own ability to compete.

        You are falsely asuming that Microsoft needs to compete by technological means. Microsoft expresses utter confidence in its ability to compete by ANY means necessary. They are the prime example of not tying one of your hands behind your back before fight, just because the other party did so. They are harsh and ruthless in their ability to compete in the marketplace and they consistently win

      • Actually, the main problem with Microsoft is that they have absolutely no confidence in their own ability to compete.

        No - Microsoft's problem is that, for a company which has historically enjoyed a near-total monopoly in the office software market, any competition would decimate their turnover - and any executive that presides over that will be looking at a serious blot on their copybook.

        We live in a world where the dice in the stock market's crap game is a company's rate of growth (if not the rate of

  • by 517714 (762276) on Friday August 31, 2007 @06:12PM (#20429443)
    Since this is an open standard, how could it possibly restrain competition? Clearly you do not understand how magnimus Microsoft is being in sharing this wonderful document with all of us.
    • by Bert64 (520050)
      Have you actually read this supposed standard? Have you even read the slashdot stories talking about it?
      To sum it up...
      The spec may be partially open, but it refers to other non published specs/programs which arent.
      Microsoft's own implementation doesn't fully comply with the published specs.
      The format spec is very broken in several ways (some formulae fail to specify units of measurement etc)
      The format itself is also broken (date support is broken, support for different working-weeks as in the middle east i
  • by Durindana (442090) on Friday August 31, 2007 @06:25PM (#20429545)
    ... but I couldn't make any sense of it at all. The summary mentions recent irregularities, but those aren't detailed at all. And the rest of it is incoherent, like the content it links to.

    In summary: Please avoid relaying submissions to blog entries, by the blogger who wrote them, without making sure they're not stark raving unreadable. Is there some kind of news buried here about MS's activities on the Swedish OOXML vote? Maybe - but I can't tell from this garbage.

  • Dear Sweden... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday August 31, 2007 @06:25PM (#20429547)
    Dear Sweden,

    We needed your NO vote. Microsoft has won their battle by removing your vote entirely, which is probably not what you intended.

    Sincerely,
    The rest of the (still) Free World.

  • As I was reading, I half expected the lawsuit to be "ALLIED TUBE & CONDUIT CORP. v. INTERNATIONAL BIG TRUCK INC."
  • "In the wake of the exposure of Microsoft's attempt to buy Sweden's vote..."

    "He quotes ALLIED TUBE & CONDUIT CORP. v. INDIAN HEAD, INC., 486 U.S. 492"

    Isn't it bad form around here to call for the application of US laws to acts committed in other countries? Or do we only say that about copyright laws?

    If there are anti-trust laws violated here, they should be Swedish or EU laws.

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