America Online (AOL) has been hit by an $8 billion class-action lawsuit by users of its Internet software, AOL 5.0.

The lawsuit, filed in Virginia, involves claims of $1,000 each for the estimated eight million people to have downloaded the faulty software and who have "had the operation of their computer altered as a result thereof", in the wording of the suit.

AOL will fight the case, Rich D'Amato, an AOL spokesman said: "The allegations have no basis in fact or law and we intend to vigorously contest them, Version 5.0 does not prevent members from accessing the Internet through other providers."

The filing alleges that: "As part of its normal operation, Version 5.0 disables, interrupts, alters, or interferes with operations of other software installed on those same computers, including but not limited to disabling any other internet software which provides internet access by non-AOL ISPs that also may be installed on the computer." The lawsuit insists that: "AOL knew of or should have known that it operated in such a manner."

The problem seems to affect people of all levels of technological skill: "I am a computer consultant and know my way around installing software," said Kevin Wohler, a self-proclaimed AOL 5.0 victim. "I ran into multiple problems, not least of which was the interference with my normal ISP. AOL made changes to my system that I would have never agreed to,"

AOL officials, however, deny that AOL 5.0 makes any changes to anything, including settings, unless the user permits them. "AOL software gives users the ability to set AOL as their default," D'Amato said. "They must choose AOL to be their default Internet setting."