By Jack Burns
Eric Lundgren, an innovative computer engineer, may have to spend 15 months in prison for saving the environment and recycling computers.
Even though Lundgren has a successful computer recycling business, the thought of throwing away or destroying so many PCs was unsettling. So he hatched a plan to copy and sell to refurbishers PCs with Microsoft restore discs. However, when the company learned what he was doing, they tried to put him in prison.
Piracy is a crime and affects the bottom line profits of video game manufacturers, Hollywood films, and software companies like Microsoft. But a Microsoft restore disc is included when someone buys a computer and is available as a free download when someone can prove their product key for Windows belongs to them.
But for people who buy a second-hand computer, if the product key to the copy of Windows does not belong to them (registered with Microsoft) the computer is worthless and must be thrown away.
Equally disturbing to Lundgren was the fact the free restore discs, included with a computer’s purchase, often get lost by the owner, thrown away by a company, or simply misplaced. That easily comprehensible act of negligence made Lundgren’s job of wiping a computer’s hard drive and giving it a fresh installation of Windows nearly impossible. Only with a fresh reinstallation of the operating system could the computer be sold in good faith to a new user.
That fact bothered Lundgren, who daily destroyed perfectly good computers all because their product key was missing and/or they weren’t registered with Microsoft. So he and his business partner went to China and located a manufacturer who would create and ship back to the US some 28,000 “Microsoft Windows restore discs.”
He intended to sell them to other computer recyclers and not to the general public for $25 each. Remember, Microsoft gives the product away, but proving ownership of the operating system is difficult if not impossible to do, especially if the product’s key code is invalid or not registered to the new buyer.
Even though Lundgren never sold a copy of the “restore” disc, it’s manufacture bypassed Microsoft altogether and allowed for recyclers to quickly offer for sale quality computers that still had a lot of life left in their systems. Lundgren lost in court and was at the moment of surrendering to the prison industrial complex to serve out his 15-month sentence when his case was accepted at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The original judge in the case, Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley, seemed to realize Lundgren’s actions were taken more as an attempt to save the environment and be socially responsible with computer trash. He noted Lundgren’s long history of taking care of the environment as well as others. According to the LA Times, Hurley was troubled by the verdict he was forced to apply:
“This case is especially difficult,” Hurley told Lundgren at his sentencing last May, “because of who you are today and in terms of who you have become.” The judge received evidence of Lundgren’s recycling company, IT Asset Partners; his projects to clean up e-waste in Ghana and China; and a 2016 initiative in which Lundgren’s company repaired and donated more than 14,000 cellphones and $100,000 to the Cell Phones for Soldiers organization to benefit U.S. soldiers deployed overseas.
Lundgren described what he believes is the motivation for his prosecution. He told reporters:
In essence, I got in the way of Microsoft’s profits, so they pushed this into federal court on false pretense,” Lundgren said. He said McGloin “testified that a free restore CD was worth the same price as a new Windows operating system with a license. … This was false and inaccurate testimony provided by Microsoft in an attempt to set a precedent that will scare away future recyclers and refurbishers from reusing computers without first paying Microsoft again for another license. … Anyone successfully extending the life cycle of computers or diverting these computers from landfills for reuse in society is essentially standing in the way of Microsoft’s profits.”
As it stands, people who buy computers which do not have a working copy of Microsoft Windows installed will have to pay Microsoft for a new copy, an action which usually costs more than the value of the old computer. Doing so is pointless.
In fact, a person should just go ahead and purchase a new computer at a big box retailer, instead of paying the same price for an old, used computer.
This is precisely the problem Lundgren attempted to solve. Even though the software is free at the time of the original sale and free for download, the mega-company will prosecute anyone who attempts to profit from their free downloads. Lundgren will likely do prison time if the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals does not rule in his favor.
Image credit: David Sprague