A California man by the name of Eric Lundgren is headed to prison for 15 months after being convicted of illegally producing 28,000 Microsoft Windows restore discs. On the surface, that sounds rather cut and dry, but many have pointed out the software on those discs was already freely available. Lundgren, a prominent e-waste recycler, says he made the discs to help people fix their old computers rather than toss them, and he worries about the precedent the case has set.
The saga started back in 2012 when Lundgren had the recovery discs made, but the government intercepted the shipment. Authorities suspected Lundgren was attempting to sell pirated copies of Windows, so it worked with Microsoft to confirm that’s what the discs contained. There was one major problem with that assessment — the discs only contained Windows itself with no activation cracks or fake product key.
You can head over to Microsoft’s site right now and download a full Windows ISO to install on your PC (after putting it on a USB drive or DVD). Microsoft makes this freely available because it’s useless without a Windows license, which comes baked into the cost of every PC. Likewise, you can buy a key from Microsoft to pair with that download. To be clear, distributing Microsoft’s software is likely to get you in trouble even if it’s free to download. Lundgren should have known better, but the way the court treated these restore discs might worry other e-waste crusaders.
The government pressed ahead with its case, accusing Lundgren of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and criminal copyright infringement. The government put the infringement cost to Microsoft at $700,000. It arrived at that value by assuming each OEM Windows install sold to companies like Dell and HP costs $25. Lundgren and others have attempted to point out that’s actually the value of the license, which Lundgren did not attempt to sell.
Lundgren says he planned to sell the discs to PC repair technicians for $0.25 each. It wasn’t about making a fortune, but helping people use existing computers for longer. Of course, he didn’t get the chance to put his plan into action, so we’ll never know if that’s true. He did make one very questionable decision, though. Lundgren had the discs printed to look like genuine Dell restore discs (see above), which was the source of the counterfeiting charge.
Despite an appeal, the court decided to stick with the $700,000 valuation of the discs. That’s why he’s looking at 15 months in prison and a $50,000 fine. Anyone who has ever misplaced their Windows key when the time comes to reinstall would probably agree the real value of each disc was closer to zero dollars. Lundgren is scheduled to surrender to authorities in the coming weeks.