Microsoft Sues Vendors of Activation Keys and Tokens for Enabling Customer Hacking *TorrentFreak
After spending billions on development and marketing for decades, companies like Microsoft dominate large swathes of the software market.
As a result, in some business and educational environments, the use of Microsoft software is effectively mandatory, leaving little room for consumers to consider alternatives or negotiate a discount.
Pirate sites are always an option, but many consumers feel that buying a genuine product at a discount is a safer and more honest option. What some don’t know is that through the actions of other people, they can pay to access unlicensed software that is no more legal than a download from The Pirate Bay.
Microsoft sues for copyright infringement
In a lawsuit filed in a Washington court this week, Microsoft targets a Canadian company The Search People Enterprises Ltd (TSPE), assumed director Mehtabjit Singh, and accused ‘John Doe’ 1-10.
The defendants are described as prolific distributors of “black market access devices”, i.e. activation keys and tokens for Microsoft software. Those who bought keys and tokens may have gotten under the impression that they were buying official software, but as Microsoft explains, that’s not just misleading, but a misinterpretation of the things they have sold.
Background: keys and tokens are not licenses
Microsoft says it develops software and distributes digital downloads using its own site and those of other vendors. Above all, Microsoft emphasizes that it does not sell software; it offers licenses that allow users to use its software, under a strict set of conditions.
Products such as Microsoft Office, Project, Visio, Windows 10, and Windows 11 all have licensing terms that restrict how the products can be used. Microsoft may also provide a product activation key to be entered as part of the installation process, with activation data sent to company servers.
Like software tokens, which enable automatic software downloads and activation, activation keys are anti-piracy tools, and exchanging money for them is not the same as buying a license. . Indeed, Microsoft is very clear: the activation of software means nothing in the absence of a license.
Microsoft’s problem is that product activation keys can be “decoupled” from the software they were meant to authorize, and then reused to activate more copies of the software, in some cases more copies than the accompanying Microsoft license does. allow. As a result, there is a worldwide black market for activation keys which are sold to often unsuspecting consumers who then download official Microsoft software, without purchasing a license.
Device peddlers enabled hacking
According to Microsoft, the defendants engaged in “broadcast marketing” that enabled the illegal sale of Microsoft’s activation keys and tokens through the softwarekeep.com, softwarekeep.ca, saveonit.com, and catsoft.co websites. Once the keys were purchased, customers received links to download the software either directly from Microsoft or from sites hosting counterfeit copies.
Between September 2020 and January 2022, Microsoft made a number of test purchases, including Office Professional Plus, Office Home and Student, and Windows 10 and 11 Professional. These confirmed the sale of activation keys, software tokens and the provision of instructions to illegally download Microsoft software.
“In either case, the copying of software from these sites constitutes an infringement of Microsoft’s copyrighted software that Defendants closely induced, enabled, facilitated, and caused,” the complaint states.
In other words, since people buying keys weren’t buying licenses, downloading the software from anywhere and making a local copy of it was tantamount to piracy. Microsoft doesn’t seem interested in suing consumers, but the software giant wants to hold the defendants accountable for unwittingly hacking their customers.
Contributory copyright infringement
“Defendants’ customers unwittingly infringed and continue to infringe Microsoft’s copyrighted software by using unauthorized access devices to download, copy and activate Microsoft software,” Microsoft continues.
“Defendants and Defendants Doe materially contributed to their customers’ infringement by knowingly and intentionally sourcing and reselling decoupled product keys for use by their customers to facilitate the downloading, copying and activation of copyrighted software by Microsoft copyright from unauthorized and counterfeit download sites.”
Microsoft asserts that it is entitled to recover its actual damages and profits attributable to the defendants’ infringement. Alternatively, Microsoft is entitled to seek $150,000 in statutory damages under 17 USC § 504(c) for each willful violation.
Additional Causes of Action
Microsoft is suing for trademark infringement over defendants’ use of its product logos to advertise and sell keys to activate counterfeit and unlicensed software.
“Defendants’ activities are likely to cause others to conclude, erroneously, that the infringing material Defendants advertise, market, install, offer and distribute originates from or is authorized by Microsoft, thereby harming Microsoft, its licensees, and the public,” Microsoft added.
The Complaint concludes with additional causes of action, including false designation of origin, false and misleading statements and descriptions of facts, breach of business dressand a request for an injunction.
Microsoft’s complaint can be found here (pdf)