In what amounts to one of the more peculiar stories to come out of this month, a Arkansas man is demanding $500 billion dollars from Microsoft as a default arbitration award after amending their terms of service.
Mind you, this is no lawsuit. As far as this man is concerned, he’s already legally entitled to this money. How could that be? With legal trickery of the highest order.
According to seattlepi.com, David Stebbins initiated this heretofore unilateral legal battle with a shockingly clever revelation. Since the Xbox Live TOS is a standard contract, it binds both the user and Microsoft equally. From this legal fact, Stebbin extrapolated that he was, technically, just as capable of changing the terms of service as Microsoft.
To enforce his “unilateral” changes, he would need Microsoft to agree to them; so he sent off his amendments with a notice that “if Microsoft did not terminate his Xbox Live membership , such changes would take effect in 10 days.”
Microsoft did nothing in the ten days and Stebbins, confident that they had agreed to the new terms, dispatched an arbitration notice to Microsoft to negotiate his new claim that he was owed $500 billion in damages. In the notice Stebbins included a “forfeit victory clause”, which dictated that if Microsoft did not reply within 24 hours he would be automatically entitled to the full sum of 500 Billion dollars.
It should be mentioned that this has all taken place outside of the legal system thus far. When Stebbin’s motion demanding validation gets through the system it will likely not endure even a passing glance from a legal professional.
However, this roundabout legal attack on Microsoft does make a profound comment on the nature of contracts in the digital age. More and more they have transformed from a give-and-take agreement between two equals into a set of mandates composed by one party with no attention paid to the will of the other.
Because corporations like Microsoft and Apple have products consumers desire, it’s easy for these contracts to resemble edicts. However, they are not edicts in the American legal system and actions like those of David Stebbins should be lauded for keeping us appraised of that fact.