Having a problem with your online service? Getting that engaged tone so many times that you suspect it hasn't installed enough modems? America Online's three million US subscribers know the feeling well - one day last year they were cut off for 19 hours when AOL had a problem rebooting its systems after maintenance. UK users of AOL were not affected.
Now the US users have decided to exercise one of the unwritten rights of the US constitution - they're suing. Subscribers are claiming damages from the country's biggest service for 'fraudulent and malicious misrepresentation'.
They claim AOL offered them unlimited usage but lacked enough kit to meet the demand. Busy online signals subjected them to 'unjust hardship' which was perpetrated with 'malice' and 'fraud', according to the lawsuit, which was filed in California.
British users would get little in the way of damages even if they could prove a similar case, says Mark Haftka, an Internet specialist with solicitors Bird & Bird. 'It all depends what's written into the contract. But even if you pass that test you will only recover money for that time you've been denied access. And as a percentage of your total monthly charge that's likely to be tiny.'
The UK's CIX conference service recently went down for 36 hours. Spokesperson Jennifer Perry said this was caused by problems with its comms supplier Telewest. 'It was unfortunate but we know they were working hard to resolve the issue. We want to solve the problem, not sue them.' How would she feel if CIX's 20,000 users took it to court? 'I don't think they would, she said. "The British don't do it that way.'
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