Court Orders Refund for “Windows Tax”

A French man has become at least the fourth person to gain a refund for a copy of Windows that came pre-installed on a new computer. This looks to be the first case, though, where a court has ordered the refund.

Microsoft’s general policy is that it sells Windows to the retailer and the retailer then sells it to the customer as part of the computer package. If you don’t want Windows (for example, if you want to run Linux on the machine), that’s between you and the retailer. That policy is covered by the End User License Agreement which you click to approve before using Windows.

In the three previous cases:

  • An American man persuaded HP to refund him $200 from a $599 laptop when he decided he didn’t want to use Vista (which is understandable.) Although HP tried to deter him, and at one point argued it was Microsoft’s responsibility, persistence eventually paid off.
  • An Israeli man sued Dell for refusing to refund him for Vista. Possibly fearing a court ruling setting a precedent, Dell eventually offered him an out of court settlement of $100, the price it had paid Microsoft for the Windows license. The man then talked them into paying the $137 he’s sued for, which covered the full consumer retail price of the system at the time.
  • A British customer persuaded Amazon to refund him the cost of Windows after buying an Asus laptop. It was a simple process, which appeared to be a case of him getting lucky and speaking to a customer service representative with a good knowledge of open source software.

The new case went as far as several court rulings. Stephane Petrus bought a Lenovo laptop and asked for a refund, citing a French law that says you cannot make the sale of one product dependent on the sale of another. The French court initially rejected that, ruling he should simply return the PC. An appeals court later ordered a retrial, saying the original judge had not fully considered a European directive on unfair commercial practices. Such directives must be adopted in the domestic law of European Union member countries.

The original court has now ruled in Petrus’ favor. It did reject his somewhat baffling estimate that of the €597 price of the computer, €404.81 was made up of the Windows license. Instead the court ordered Lenovo to hand over €120 as a refund, but a further €800 in damages for making him take the case through the courts, and €1,000 to cover legal costs.

Not only does this establish a legal precedence in French law, but the European Union directive angle means people across the continent may now have a stronger argument for saying they have a legal right to a Windows refund in their own country.

(Image credit: Alan Lord/The Open Sourceror)