Selling Disks With Free Microsoft Software Lands E-Waste Recycler Stiff Prison Term

Microsoft decided to file criminal charges against an e-waste recycler named Eric Lundgren. The case against Lundgren originally went to court months ago, but the man remained free as his appeal worked its way through the court system. A federal appeals court has now upheld the original ruling, meaning that Lundgren will serve a 15-month prison sentence and will be forced to pay a $50,000 fine.

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What led to this harsh prison sentence? Lundgren had taken to downloading free software that Microsoft offers to Windows users commonly called restore disks. Lundgren's idea was to make these discs available to computer recycling shops so that they wouldn't need to make the disks themselves. He also wanted to provide the disks to PC owners who might not know how to make their own with the goal of allowing these people to continue using their PC rather than having to buy a new one.

The key point here is that the restore discs are given to anyone who buys a computer with a licensed version of Windows on it and the software is free to download. Reports indicate that the disks are useless to anyone without a legitimately purchased Windows license. Lundgren made 28,000 of these disks and shipped them to a Florida broker to sell for a quarter each.

In the original court case, Microsoft claimed that the free-to-download software on the disks was worth $25 per disk and the courts accepted that claim. This meant Lundgren was on the hook for infringing on Microsoft products worth up to $700,000. Some view Lundgren as an example of how overly aggressive tech firms have become in trying to get users to throw away perfectly functional devices and buy new ones.

Nathan Proctor, director of the US PIRG's Right to Repair campaign issued a statement on the case, "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."

Many states are actively pushing for legislation that guarantees consumers the right to repair their own gadgets, California has legislation in process to force device makers to provide users and third parties with items needed to repair devices.

Microsoft issued a statement on the Lundgren case to The Verge: "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."