Prison didn’t seem to change Eric Lundgren.
The entrepreneur and right-to-repair advocate just finished serving a prison sentence for making and selling 28,000 copies of Microsoft restore CDs—a disc that lets users restore their computers to factory settings. Microsoft gives these discs away for free on the internet, but the company testified in court that Lundgren had conspired to traffic in counterfeit goods and infringed its copyright. Lundrgen said he just wanted to help people extend the life of their computers.
“I got in the way of the 28th largest company in the world and this giant stepped on me and I felt it,” Lundgren told VICE hours before starting his prison sentence. “I’m going to prison for giving you the free repair tool to fix what you legally own.”
A native of Washington state, Lundgren built a business refurbishing computers in the Pacific Northwest, which prevents them from becoming e-waste. According to the United Nations, e-waste—the trash generated by consumer electronics—is the world’s fastest growing waste stream, America generates most of it: around 7 million tons a year. The U.S. ships its e-waste to countries such as China and Nigeria, which break the pieces down to extract valuable metals. The process often releases toxic chemicals into the air, which has a disastrous effect on the health of people recycling the waste.
As part of his business, Lundrgen wanted to offer customers an easy method of restoring their computer to its factory settings. Manufacturers such as Microsoft and Dell typically include restore CDs with the purchase of a new computer, but people tend to lose them. Lundgren identified a niche, and contracted a company in China to mass produce the discs for his customers.
When Lundgren’s manufacturer shipped discs to America, they sat unused in a warehouse for two years. Robert Wolff, a middleman Lundgren had dealt with before, called him up and asked to buy the discs for a total of $3,400, roughly 14 cents a disc. It was a sting, Wolff was working for the federal government and authorities raided Lundgren’s house. After a five year court battle, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and criminal copyright infringement.
“Do I regret my actions? No. I do not. I think that history will find that Microsoft are on the wrong side of humanity when it comes to recycling,” Lundgren said. “My mistake was thinking too small. I thought, if I could just help people repair 100,000 computers and make them last a couple years longer that that would make a big difference.”
The court sentenced Lundgren to 15 months, but he was released after a year for good behavior.
“I don’t know what I was supposed to learn by going to prison. I just made the most of my time while I was there,” he said. “They try to break you in prison. That’s basically what prison is set up to do…I would say my time in prison definitely emboldened me further towards my goal which is to see that all the e-waste in the country and the world isn’t thrown away but is recycled.”
In prison, Lundgren sketched out a plan for a new business. When he got home, he hit the ground running. His new business recycles electric vehicle batteries.
“We’re going to save 47 million pounds of batters from landfills this year,” he said. “It’s going to save billions of dollars in commodity value alone and take away 70 percent of the toxicity in our landfills.”