RealTime IT News

Spinning Microsoft's EU Troubles

While Microsoft mulls appealing a recent court decision that forces it to comply with antitrust penalties, attorneys are talking up -- and down -- the implications of the unbundling decision for the world's largest software company.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Microsoft has retained a group of attorneys in Brussels whose only job is to "spin" the decision into more positive light for Microsoft. "That's fair enough," the source said. "That's the nature of the game."

The Dec. 22nd ruling by Europe's Court of First Instance (CFI) forces Microsoft to comply with penalties imposed by the European Commission in March by removing Media Player from its Windows OS and allowing more licensing access to its server software protocols.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company works with a number of lawyers in Brussels, where its main legal team continues to work on the case. The spokesperson had no comment about any attorneys retained separately to talk down or up any potential legal precedents and said Microsoft has not decided whether to appeal.

The development, however, helps underscore the arguments that are already underway among legal experts over the ruling.

That Microsoft must unbundle Media Player is "going to impose some difficulties, in terms of what they want to bolt on to their operating system in the future," said Vincent Brophy, an antitrust attorney with the international law firm Jones Day.

Although no one expects a "Reduced" Windows version -- without Media Player but for the same price -- to inspire a lot of sales, the CFI's ruling "means the company is now being told the way in which it can and cannot market its products," Brophy added. "I think they can no longer take the view that they have a free hand. Instead, the company's dominant position comes with extraordinary responsibilities to package their products in certain ways," Brophy said. "Once that precedent is out there, it can be used around the world. This is a serious setback for them."

Why is Microsoft optimistic? See page 2.