An Xbox 360 owner is using a contractual technicality in the Xbox Live terms and conditions to press a legal claim that Microsoft owes him $500 billion.
David Stebbins of Arkansas reckons that Microsoft owes him a half-trillion dollars - take a moment to let that sink in if you need - and here's how he came to that rather remarkable conclusion. As an Xbox Live user, Stebbins entered into a contract that was binding upon both him and Microsoft, which gave him the idea to "unilaterally amend the terms of service." He submitted a notice of his amendments to Microsoft, giving the company ten days to either accept the new terms or terminate his service. Microsoft neither responded nor terminated his subscription, which he argues means that the company accepted the new contract by default.
A couple of weeks later, on May 18, he contacted Microsoft again, this time with an offer to arbitrate a legal dispute in which he claimed $500 billion in damages. The invitation also carried a "forfeit victory clause" stating that Stebbins would win the case by default if Microsoft failed to respond within 24 hours.
"As you probably guessed, the Defendants did not accept the invitation to arbitrate within 24 hours of receiving it," Stebbins wrote in a legal motion filed in a Seattle federal court. "Therefore, I automatically won on May 19, 2011, per the forfeit victory clause."
Stebbins does make the interesting point that he's merely using the same tactics that large companies often employ with their customers, changing the terms of the user agreement and taking the continued use of its service as acknowledgment of and agreement with the updated contract.
"I see a lot of friends and family who get pushed around and walked on, who have causes of action against them, but they choose not to pursue those causes of action. Lots of people are victims of torts... few of them actually sue over them, but that doesn't mean they can't," he told seattlepi.com. "I, on the other hand, will not let people push me around, just because I've already filed a bunch of claims, already."
It sounds not-entirely-insane, until you get to the part where Stebbins explains in his motion that he won't be offering anything to the court in paper because "to do so would put an undue strain on my printer." Instead, he created a YouTube channel with screenshots of the changes he made to the Xbox T&C and the invitation to arbitration he emailed to Microsoft. The channel, sadly, has since been taken down.
It's also far from Stebbins' only lawsuit; he's filed more than a dozen within the past year, including similar far-fetched attempts at contract arbitration and claims of hiring discrimination because of his Asperger's Syndrome.
Stebbins also made it clear that he didn't go out of his way to make sure his complaints showed up on Microsoft's radar. "When I mail these documents to Microsoft, they won't go to any legal division; I arranged for the mailings to be picked up by the employee that just collects regular mail!" he said. "It's quite possible that these employees won't understand the legal significance of these documents, and know that they're required to respond."
It's an interesting turn-about on the way companies manipulate user contracts as they see fit but I'm not sure how it's going to hold up as a legal strategy and Stebbins' willingness to admit that he's jerking the system around may have been meant ironically but it still drains any sympathy I may have had for his quixotic ploy. Making a point is fine, but there's no need to be a dick about it.
Microsoft has not yet commented on the matter.