The tech world is abuzz with opinions on the news of Eric Lundgren’s conviction in US federal court for infringing on Microsoft’s intellectual property.
Lundgren counterfeited 28,000 Windows restore disks hoping to sell them to PC repair shops at the price of 25 cents each. He believed this would help the shops cut down on the process of downloading files and making restore disks themselves and encourage more people to use refurbished computers, thereby reducing e-waste. The federal appeals court rejected his claim that the restore disks he made to extend the lives of computers had no financial value, even though they could be downloaded free and could be used only on computers with a valid Windows license.
Businesses that refurbish PCs typically purchase used PCs, wipe them clean, install a fresh version of Windows, and sell the refurbished PCs with new software to new customers. When a refurbisher installs a fresh version of Windows on a refurbished PC, Microsoft charges a discounted rate of $25 for the software and a new license. IT IS NOT FREE. Lungden was looking to sell the counterfeited software to the refurbisher community as if it was a legitimate, licensed copy of Windows. IT WAS NOT.
Lundgren is a renowned innovator in e-waste management. His electronic hybrid recycling facility, the first of its kind in the US, turns discarded cell phones and other electronics into functional devices, slowing the stream of harmful chemicals and metals into landfills and the environment.
And hence his popularity, and the negative commentary against Microsoft on social media. The company is accused of being wasteful and forcing people to buy new computers. Of course, Microsoft is a for-profit capitalistic organization, but the accusation is far from the truth.
Lundgren’s characterization of the case is loose and unconvincing and is also intended to generate empathy for him while positioning Microsoft as an evil corporate organization. In an interview with The Verge, Lungden claims, “I got in the way of Microsoft’s multi- multi- multi-million dollar business model of recharging people for computers that already have an operating system.”
Responding to the criticism, Microsoft has published a blog post detailing the specifics of the case and stating that the company fully supports refurbishing and recycling of computers and have robust programs to support this. Altogether these programs have more than 3,000 members, recycling millions of PCs.
While we’ve cut back substantially on the number and types of piracy cases that we bring, we remain committed to protecting our customers when we see others working to deceive them – especially when they’re acting unlawfully. We often pursue actions, for example, against phone scammers who masquerade as technical support to trick and defraud customers. We similarly remain concerned when counterfeiters seek to deceive consumers, even more so when they’re seeking to profit from this activity.
Most people accusing of Microsoft of ‘going after’ Lundgren to ‘protect its wasteful corporate agenda’ are ignoring the fact that Microsoft did not bring this case in the first place. The US Customs referred the case to federal prosecutors in 2012 after intercepting shipments of counterfeit software imported by Lundgren from China.
In China, Lundgren had established an elaborate counterfeit supply chain to unlawfully manufacture counterfeit discs in significant volumes. These counterfeit discs were sold to refurbishers in the US as ‘genuine software’ for personal profit, as his emails submitted as evidence before the court indicate, even though he claimed in his defense that his goal was to help the e-recycling community.
Microsoft has a strong program to support legitimate refurbishers and recyclers, while protecting customers. Lundgren failed to stop his activity even after being warned by a customs seizure notice, and it is unfair to hit at Microsoft for the man’s intentional unlawful activity.