"Microsoft isn't a person, it's a company!"
Posted Jul 21, 2006 22:05 UTC (Fri) by giraffedata
In reply to: "Microsoft isn't a person, it's a company!"
Parent article: Free Software Sets the Computing Agenda
As a corporation lawyer, I have to take this opportunity to tighten up some of the terminology.
A company is a group of people working together. Often, what they're working on is a business, and they're employees of someone.
A corporation is a legal construct that helps us write and enforce laws that involve large groups of people. The kind of corporation most people think of when they hear the term is a business corporation, in which case the large group of people are investors in a business. (Other kinds of corporations include charities and governments).
In the case of a business such as Microsoft, "company" refers to the employees, not the investors.
A company is not a legal entity. You can't sue one or make a contract with one. It isn't property; you can't legally buy or sell a company. (When we loosely refer to buying a company, we either mean buying the assets of the company or buying the corporation that operates the company).
The way a corporation works is that the law treats it in many ways like a person, separate from the persons who are actually members of it. That way, millions of words of laws that have been developed to apply to a single businessman can be instantly adapted to apply to a group of a thousand investors as well.
This, I believe, leads non-lawyers to think of the corporation as an actual person separate from the investors -- one who has emotions and personality, conscience and survival instinct. That's a mistake. Fining the Microsoft corporation means fining Microsoft shareholders; that's all. Each shareholder becomes poorer, and it's to recoup riches that reached that shareholder illicitly and to punish him for hiring directors and giving them money with which to do evil.
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