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Campaign: Send AOL CDs back

From Rusty Dornin

AOL uses discs like this one to try to get customers to sign on.
AOL uses discs like this one to get customers to sign on.

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CNN's Rusty Dornin talks to a couple of guys in California who are gathering thousands of free AOL discs in a plot to stop the onslaught. (October 16)
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EL CERRITO, California (CNN) -- Don't know what to do with all those unwanted America Online compact discs that scream "Sign on today"?

Jim McKenna and John Lieberman say they have the answer: Send them back. In an effort to get AOL, part of CNN's parent company, to stop sending the CDs, the two men started a Web site asking people to send the discs to them.

Once the two have collected a million discs, they say they'll drive them to AOL's headquarters in Virginia and dump them at the Internet giant's door.

"We're going to AOL and say, 'You've got mail. Please stop this,'" McKenna said.

AOL is not the only company that sends out the free CDs, which entice customers with offers of over 1,000 hours of free Internet access. The marketing strategy also is used by AT&T, Earthlink and others.

But AOL -- with 35 million subscribers worldwide -- uses the tactic most frequently. The AOL discs appear in magazines, at the movies, in the mail and at parties, but an AOL spokesman wouldn't say how many discs are sent out every year. The spokesman did say that customers who aren't happy about getting the CDs can send them back so the company can recycle them.

McKenna and Lieberman are getting a little help for their cause from a waste management company, which publicized their campaign in a recent newsletter.

"You're wasting a lot of natural resources," said landfill manager Janet Schnyder. "You're causing pollution and you're basically sending something that people don't want."

They launched their campaign after going to the video store one night and getting an AOL disc with their rental. Then when they got to Lierberman's house there was another disc waiting in the mailbox, complete with plastic wrap and additional packaging. All of it added up to a lot of garbage.

"We thought, 'You know. Somebody's got to do something about it,'" McKenna said.

Having fun

Their Web site has brought in about 70,000 CD's from as far away as Brazil and Africa. In the process, the two are having a lot of fun.

Their homepage shows pictures reportedly sent in by frustrated disc recipients. There's a snapshot of a room wallpapered with the CDs and another of a dog with a disc clenched in its jaw.

This "pooch can't stand it when the unsuspecting postal worker drops off another unwanted AOL CD," the site says.

McKenna and Lieberman scratch the CDs so they can't be sent out again and then they loop them on string -- giving the unwanted discs the appearance of giant strands of silicon. The two stress they are not anti-AOL.

"We're not defaming AOL or the corporation or anybody that does business with them," McKenna said. "We are asking them politely to stop. And we're just doing it in a creative way."

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