Hands up, who still has a CD-drive in their laptop?
I read an article on Techcrunch this morning regarding a man who was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison for selling Dell branded “original” Windows recovery CDs; that really threw me back to 1995.
I am glad that we live in a world in which justice provides a strong basis for our society. When someone commits a crime that either hurts others or even society at a larger scale, we have the means to do something about it.
Unfortunately though, the justice system is an absolute behemoth. Everything is done slowly and carefully. It sometimes feels like procedures are more important than actual facts.
When I speak about facts, I actually mean societal impact.
This case caught my eye this morning, as it made me wonder about the fact that we, as a society, sometimes have a strong difference of opinion on the severity of crimes.
Sure, it might be “unfair” that you got a speeding ticket for going 2 miles and hour too fast, but at least you knew before hand that you weren’t allowed to go that fast. And whether or not you agree with the actual amount you were fined or not, the sentence for anyone who has commited the same (tiny little) crime, is exactly the same.
When someone is sentenced to 15 months in prison for providing Microsoft Windows recovery disc copies to certified Dell refurbishment dealers — it really makes me wonder if we our judges really understand tech and are capable of making such decisions.
As I have understood it so far, the CDs did not have any malware on them, nor did they provide the customer with a fake licence key. The CDs had a one-to-one copy of a readily online available MS Windows recovery program on them; these versions of MS Windows were perfectly fine. You could simply install them and purchase the necessary licence key that you need to use the operating system from your local Microsoft dealer or directly on the Microsoft website.
What I fail to understand is why the man in question was sentenced to prison time, though.
Is he a danger to society?
Has he done something that has harmed others so severly that we need to put him behind bars?
Abstract (Techcrunch article by Devin Coldewey)
In 2012 feds seized a shipment of discs, which they determined were counterfeit copies of Windows, heading to the U.S., where they were to be sold to retailers by Lundgren. U.S. Prosecutors, backed by Microsoft’s experts, put him on the hook for about $8.3 million — the retail price of Windows multiplied by the number of discs seized.
The only problem with that was that these weren’t counterfeit copies of Windows, and they were worth almost nothing. The confusion is understandable — here’s why.
Do our judges really understand tech?
It just seems so dated and possibly wrong to sentence a man for a crime that has close to zero monetary and societal negative impact.
To be honest, I shouldn’t be all that surprised by the fact that some people actually still make money with software CDs; just go to your local best buy or media markt and you will see that there are still plenty of CDs, DVDs and even the odd Blueray on shelf.
Just because I haven’t had a CD-drive in my PC or laptops for more than 10 years, doesn’t mean that there is not still plenty of perfectly good hardware out there that can use them.
What I think happened here is that the judges failed to understand the information that was saved on the CDs and distributed.
They merely saw and acknowledge the fact that the CDs were not officially made by Dell or Microsoft and therefore concluded that the could do harm.
And although industry experts could not tell the difference between the software program on the discs and that of the official free download that Microsoft provides on their website, the judges still argued that these copies were used to distribute malware to customers.
That is where I think the judges were wrong.
Of course one could argue that this practise should be stopped, because it could potentially bring malware onto the market. However, Lundgren (the man in question) did not do so.
There was no malware to be found on his discs. Nada.
Yes, he admittedly forged the Dell Logo on his CDs. This could potentially harm the Dell brand in some way if the quality of the product was not up to par. Of course, there is something to be said for the copy right infringement and trademark breach of the Dell brand and that is fair enough.
But do we really think that this deserves a prison sentence?
We live in a world where we should at least have the decency to consider someone innocent until proven guilty, right?
A short plea for change
I think that this case comes to show that we need to make a few clear changes to how we deal with “tech-related” cases.
- Sentencing takes far too long; this case is as relevant to society as my 2 miles p/hr speeding ticket that I got just last week
- We need a tech-expert judge team who understand the difference between hardware and software; I believe that the judges have failed to grasp the difference and impact between the two in this case
- We cannot sentence someone on the basis of a hypothetical case that he or she could some day harm society with his product or service; when there was no malware to be found on any of these discs, he did “nothing” wrong to harm anyone
But hey, he can just be glad that he didn’t have to testify in front of the US-Senate. Those guys would have sentenced him for burning CDs, which is also still illegal right? ;-)
These thoughts merely reflect my personal opinion based on the article by Devin Coldewey on Techcrunch. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the trial, but I just wanted to share my initial thoughts on the matter.
Have a great day, Remco Livain