While it seems like such a simple thing in some ways, the courts have said it’s just not okay to make a profit off an otherwise free product or service. A man cooked up an idea to sell restore disks that included a version of Windows. It can be downloaded for free, but ultimately it was decided he didn’t have the right to sell it for a profit, and now he’ll be serving hard prison time for his crime.
Eric Lundgren is an e-waste recycler and inventor. He did the ultimately in recycling electronic knowledge, inventing and selling Windows restore discs.
As everyone knows who has bought a PC, you get a restore disc with it that includes a licensed version of Windows. It can also be downloaded for free. But not everyone with a broken PC knows the software can be downloaded for free if they go online.
So Lundgren saw a need and filled it. He had 28,000 disks made that included the Windows software. He shipped them to a broker in Florida, selling them to computer refurbishing shops for a quarter each. The shops sold them to the users who appreciated having disks that would restore their computer instead of buying a new PC.
Despite the fact that this software can be downloaded for free, it’s estimated that Lundgren’s use of the software cost Microsoft up to $700,000, after they estimated their free software was worth $25 on a disk.
Microsoft said of the crime, “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. The 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.”
In Microsoft’s eyes, while Lundgren was in the business of eliminating e-waste by recycling it, his crime ended up hurting the company, other refurbishers, and the users themselves.
Right to Repair
But this also harkens back to the argument over Right to Repair. Many people want to have the right to repair their machines on their own and don’t want to have to go through the process of having it repaired by official means.
Certainly a user would rather fix their machine cheaply on their own with a cheap disk than pay hundreds of dollars to have it repaired or ultimately buy a new one.
Nathan Proctor, director of US PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, said, “Companies have gotten too aggressive in pushing us to throw things away and buy new things. What we should be doing instead is reusing more, repairing more, and recycling the rest — ideas that Eric Lundgren has been pioneering.”
But Microsoft and Apple, as well as other tech companies, are against consumers having the opportunity to make their own choices regarding their machines. They feel it opens users up to security risks. But it can be argued that what they’re really worried about is the money lost. Is Microsoft more worried about the $700,000 they say they lost or the security risk their users assumed?
Lundgren is paying the price for his business endeavor. He has been convicted and received a 15-month prison term as well as a $50,000 fine. A federal appeals court has now confirmed the sentence.
Is this a victimless crime? Or is Microsoft a victim here? Are the users who happily paid for these disks rather than pay for a costly repair or buy a new PC the victims?
What do you think of Lundgren’s crime? Was his sentencing just? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.