(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Since June 15, Eric Lundgren has been in prison. His crime: Downloading software onto computer disks for his customers instead of making them do it themselves – which many of them couldn’t do, leading to unnecessary abandonment of perfectly good computers (filled with delightful chemicals) into our landfills. His sentence: 15 months in prison.
This is not Lundgren’s first run-in with the powers. His first arrest was at age 14, when he panicked and fled from a police cruiser trying to pull him over for driving a not-entirely-street-legal go kart he had made with a lawn mower motor and a boombox.
Since then he’s put his ability to repurpose parts to more productive use. He became a millionaire tech entrepreneur finding a variety of ways to reuse electronic devices and components rather than let them rot. Some of these have been lucrative, some charitable, and some both at the same time. He launched the first “electronic hybrid recycling” facility in the United States, turning old cell phones and stuff back into useable devices. This serves the poor (who can get devices cheaper), saves the environment (chemicals in phone batteries are nothing to mess with) and, hey, put a buck into Lundgren’s pocket, too.
He once built an electronic car out of discarded parts that out-distanced Tesla’s car on a single charge. And don’t forget the troops – his company once donated 14,000 cell phones to military personnel deployed overseas, where I bet they were grateful to be able to make a call home.
His trouble with the law – this time – springs from his having manufactured a “restore disk” that you could use to restore your software after a crash. One thing he provided on the disk was a copy of Microsoft software to re-install. He found that many customers either were, or felt (which amounts to the same thing) unable to restore this software themselves, and perfectly restorable computers were being thrown out in favor of new purchases because customers couldn’t get their old ones to work.
Now, let’s be clear about four indisputable facts:
- Lundgren was not authorized to download the software, so he did break the law – as he admitted by pleading guilty (though he appealed the jail sentence as excessive).
- The disks could not be used on a computer that did not already have a paid-up license for the software, and anyone with a paid-up license is allowed to re-download the software for free, so Lundgren didn’t cost Microsoft a single thin dime that it was ethically entitled to.
- Microsoft wanted this case prosecuted because they wanted to collect sales revenue by getting people to dump perfectly good computers in our landfills so they’d have to buy new computers with new software.
- Only a coward or idiot of a prosecutor would charge a case like this.
There’s nothing wrong with making a buck as you do good for the world. But there is something wrong with making a buck by not doing good for the world. And there is a whole lot wrong with sending a man to jail for 15 months so a company can make a buck off actively harming its own customers.
I’m proud to nominate Eric Lundgren for The Al.