Computer technician and E-waste recycler Eric Lundgren is going to prison for 15 months for selling restore disks for computers, which would extend their longevity and allow them to be resold to new users. A federal appeals court in Miami rejected the appeal in his case this week, upholding a federal district judge’s ruling that Lundgren violated Microsoft’s copyright by selling the disks.
Although these restore disks come free with every computer, there is a licence key that is tied to the first buyer, which makes it effectively impossible to restore these computers for private sale, that is, unless you want to pay Microsoft for an entirely new licence, at which point most people would just choose to buy a new computer.
“I am going to prison, and I’ve accepted it. What I’m not okay with is people not understanding why I’m going to prison. Hopefully, my story can shine some light on the e-waste epidemic we have in the United States, how wasteful we are. At what point do people stand up and say something? I didn’t say something, I just did it,” Lundgren told the Washington Post on Monday.
By keeping computers out of landfills for just a few more years, Lundgren was really doing great work for both the environment and people with lower incomes who cannot afford to go out and buy new computers. Even the judge expressed remorse during the sentencing, but still decided to send him to prison for 15 months anyway.
“This is a difficult sentencing because I credit everything you are telling me, you are a very remarkable person. This case is especially difficult, because of who you are today and in terms of who you have become,” Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley told him in court last year.
Initially, Microsoft was open about the fact that Lundgren was being prosecuted because his operation negatively impacted their revenue stream. Microsoft lawyer Bonnie MacNaughton wrote in a statement to the judge that “These sales of counterfeit operating systems displaced Microsoft’s potential sales of genuine operating systems.”
However, since the case has gotten so much media attention and many are seeing Lundgren as a hero, Microsoft has changed their tune and are saying that this is a measure that was taken to protect people from malware.
In a statement this week, Microsoft went on the defensive about the prosecution:
“Microsoft actively supports efforts to address e-waste and has worked with responsible e-recyclers to recycle more than 11 million kilograms of e-waste since 2006. Unlike most e-recyclers, Mr. Lundgren sought out counterfeit software which he disguised as legitimate and sold to other refurbishers. This counterfeit software exposes people who purchase recycled PCs to malware and other forms of cybercrime, which puts their security at risk and ultimately hurts the market for recycled products.”
Lundgren, on the other hand, says that he is going to jail because his plan to reduce e-waste and help the environment got in the way of Microsoft’s business model.
“In essence, I got in the way of Microsoft’s profits, so they pushed this into federal court on false pretense,” Lundgren said. “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.”
Lundgren concluded that ultimately, “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.”
The court gave Lundgren a few weeks to make his business transition arrangements before he will surrender to police custody, but he was warned that if he created too much media attention he would be taken in immediately.
“I was told if I got loud in the media, they’d come pick me up. If you want to take my liberty, I’m going to get loud,” Lundgren said.
Each year, 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste is generated worldwide, and while it only represents 2 percent of the solid waste stream, it accounts for 70 percent of the hazardous waste that is in landfills, according to the EPA. Extending the lives of computers by giving people an easy way to buy them used would put a significant dent in this problem.