Microsoft Helps Get A Computer Recycler Sentenced To 15 Months In Prison For Offering Unapproved Recovery Disks
from the thanks-for-making-the-world-a-better-place-you-thief dept
To ensure no good deed goes unpunished, Microsoft is trying to get a computer recycler tossed in prison because he almost provided Windows recovery disks to users who needed them. Eric Lundgren, who’s made heroic efforts to prevent dangerous computer parts from filling landfills, is facing a 15-month sentence and a $50,000 fine for manufacturing 28,000 recovery disks. His sentence is based on two charges: conspiracy and copyright infringement.
Tom Jackman has the whole story at the Washington Post and it’s half-tragedy, half-farce. Lundgren runs a company that prevents tens of millions of pounds of harmful chemicals and metals from ending up in landfills. In return for doing more than his part to save the planet, he’ll gets a chance to spend a year in jail and hand Microsoft $50,000 in compensation for sales it never “lost” from recovery discs he never got a chance to distribute. (h/t Techdirt reader Tom Sparks)
Lundgren said he thought electronics companies wanted the reuse of computers to be difficult so that consumers would buy new ones. “I started learning what planned obsolescence was,” he said, “and I realized companies make laptops that only lasted as long as the insurance would last. It infuriated me. That’s not what a healthy society should have.”
He thought that producing and selling restore discs to computer refurbishers — saving them the hassle of downloading the software and burning new discs — would encourage more users to restore their computers instead of discarding them. In his view, the new owners were entitled to the software, and this just made it easier.
The government, and Microsoft, did not see it that way. Federal prosecutors in Florida obtained a 21-count indictment against Lundgren and his business partner, and Microsoft filed a letter seeking $420,000 in restitution for lost sales. Lundgren claims that the assistant U.S. attorney on the case told him, “Microsoft wants your head on a platter and I’m going to give it to them.”
Fortunately, Lundgren has judges in a couple of courts on his side, at least for the time being. US District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley pointed out to the prosecution that Lundgren hadn’t sold any of the recovery discs he had produced. Because of that, he departed downward from federal sentencing guidelines, giving Lundgren less than half of the 36-to-47 months called for.
Judge Hurley appears to feel locking Lundgren up for a few years would be a net loss for society, if not the environment.
“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 “Cellphones for Soldiers” to benefit U.S. soldiers deployed overseas.
The other court on his side — at least for the moment — is the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Lundgren appealed his sentence and the court agreed to hear the case. This keeps Lundgren out of jail until the appeal is ruled on. It’s unclear where the court’s sympathies lie, but it is encouraging it didn’t dismiss it immediately. Lundgren plans to argue he didn’t violate Microsoft’s software license or cause it any lost sales. The government will obviously stick to its “head on a platter” argument, presenting Microsoft’s absurd “lost sales” theory as actual fact, rather than the ridiculousness it is — especially when Microsoft spent most of the last couple of years giving away Windows 10 to everyone, including people who didn’t want it.
Someone dedicates his life to keeping landfills free of harmful material and the government wants to send him to prison. And it’s all based on Microsoft’s assertion it would have sold as many recovery disks as Lundgren created if only Lundgren hadn’t created them. Ignored is the fact they never were distributed. Also ignored is the dubiousness of “lost sales” assertions, which are always 100% conjecture and always presented as a simplistic equation: “1 Piracy = 1 Lost Sale.” But in this case, no sales were lost because no sales were replaced with bootleg boot disks.
And “sales” must be a legal term of art. Microsoft allows anyone to download a recovery disk for free. But in court, these are suddenly worth money because infringement. To ensure someone gets tossed in jail for breaking the chain of planned obsolescence, Microsoft (and prosecutors) want the court to believe the existence of recovery disks that do nothing unless a person already has a licensed copy of Windows has somehow made the company $700,000 poorer. Given the limitations of burned recovery disks, it’s impossible to see where infringement even comes into play. And yet here we are, watching prosecutorial discretion morph into putting someone’s head on a platter over recovery disks any one of us could download hundreds of times from Microsoft’s website without a single murmur about “lost sales” from the tech giant.