back to article Ouch! Microsoft sues recycling firm over 70K stolen Office licenses

They were supposed to be destroyed, but up to 10 workers at an Arizona computer recycling firm instead sold 70,000 copies of Office 2010 on the black market. Now Microsoft is suing their employer, Global Electronics Recycling, for restitution in full. In a lawsuit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court of Western …

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    But why?

    Didn't MS just invalidate them from their end?

    You have to wonder if they don't have that ability?

    1. Khaptain

      Re: But why?

      I imagine that MS have no way of knowing which licences passed through the hands of these guys. I would also presume that a fair amount of estimation was involved to arrive at 70000 or are there other techniques which we are not aware of, if so what are they.

      I would also like to know how they got the licence keys because they are generally not visible after installation. I know that Jelly Bean used to be a method but I am unaware if it still works..

      Why would I want to know : Simple, it is always interesting to see how the criminal mind works, you do not have to be a genius to be ingenious.,

      (Hint : Don't search for/download Jelly Bean without having very up to date virus définitions)

      1. Mondo the Magnificent

        Re: But why?

        Often the COA is attached to the side of the chassis by means of a label. This is quite common on Dell and HP systems.

        Perhaps they removed these labels or noted them down?

        1. Khaptain

          Re: But why?

          "Often the COA is attached to the side of the chassis by means of a label. This is quite common on Dell and HP systems."

          Personally I have never seen Dell or HP stick MS Office stickers on the side of a PC, are you sure that you mean Office and not Windows.

          ( That doesn't mean to say that it doesn't exist, it's just that I have never seen it)

        2. TimeMaster T

          Re: But why?

          The stickers you referring to are for the OS, not the Office suite that may also be pre-installed on the computer.

          My experience has been that the Office licenses is a separate document included with the systems documentation.

          Disclaimer; I also haven't worked on brand name PCs in 3 years so things might have changed since then.

        3. rtb61

          Re: But why?

          Dude, they noted them down 70,000 times, that's a damn lot of note taking. So regardless of M$=B$ the has nothing to do with an imaginary licence. They are claiming to own a small arrangement of letters and numbers, you saw those letters and numbers and you failed to what, gouge the eyes out of the employees or shoot them in the head at the end of a shift.

          They are claiming something completely and utterly non existent, the idea of an arrangement of letters and numbers. So how exactly do you destroy that, blow up the entire planet, yep, that arrangement of letters and numbers will never occur again.

      2. Vincent Ballard

        Re: But why?

        The subhead ("Should have been pulped. Weren't") suggests that the items for recycling were licence certificates with the keys printed on them. Although that raises the question of how they can have infringed copyright: breach of contract, yes, but if they were merely reselling physical items then no copying was performed.

      3. Anonymous IV

        Re: But why?

        > I would also like to know how they got the licence keys because they are generally not visible after installation. I know that Jelly Bean used to be a method but I am unaware if it still works..

        There are several products which can extract Office licence keys, among which Belarc Advisor and Produkey. Ask any BOFH or PFY!

        1. Gavin Chester


          There were, some newer Microsoft products (certainly Office 2013 editions) only store a subset of the key. Lets you know what licence was used for example I have 2 office one for me, one for my wife and I can then tell them apart for re-install but does not give you all the details.

      4. Peter Simpson 1

        Re: But why?

        Wouldn't MS have a record? They're so obsessive about control, I find it hard to believe some intern's job wasn't de-authorizing all those product keys before they sent them out to be recycled.

        And who cares, anyway? Have they not perused the various bittorrent sites?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But why?

      I suppose they could add 70,000 keys in a product update that will break the install, and hope they all update, and make it so that update can't be undone for those people. But what if they bought the licenses in good faith? Do they want to piss off a bunch of legit customers, and make them hate Microsoft and maybe decide to give LibreOffice a try?

      1. paulf

        Re: But why?

        Unfortunately (at least in England and Wales - IANAL) if you buy something from someone who didn't have proper ownership of that thing in the first place* then it isn't yours. (So they're not really legit customers). The item in question still belongs to the original owner and your claim is against the fraudulent seller for the money you gave them. It might sound unfair on the buyer who likely acted in good faith but I suspect there is a bit of unintended consequences avoidance here to avoid stolen property being laundered by "selling" it.

        That's not to say MS wouldn't do a deal to the 70,000 to keep them sweet and stop them going to another Office product but I'm not convinced MS under SatNad is that way inclined (if indeed they ever were under Gates/Ballmer).

        * - I'd say stolen property but that can be a bit emotive around software so I've tried to tiptoe around it.

      2. oldcoder

        Re: But why?

        They have before, and will again.

        Something about a guitar strings manufacturer...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But why?

      Possibly this?

      1. Khaptain

        Re: But why?


        Yes, I considered the boxed versions but then thought that it was highly unlikely that these boxes would have been given to the PC recycling firm but it could be possible.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But why?

      Because that would make work for Microsoft, and wouldn't discourage the company or any others from doing this

  2. Your alien overlord - fear me

    You'd think at least one former boss would have started a charitabe foundation and given these licences to needy charities.

    1. Phuq Witt


      "...You'd think at least one former boss would have started a charitabe foundation and given these licences to needy charities...."

      Haven't the needy suffered enough?

      1. adnim

        Re: Chariddeee

        Thank you for making me smile.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Chariddeee

        "Haven't the needy suffered enough?"

        Yes, people keep trying to foist crappy OSS products on them when all that they really want is real Microsoft Office...

    2. Anonymous Coward


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's a recycling firm and not a disposal firm, wtf did Microsoft expect ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And here was me thinking that it was only Microsoft that recycled old, shite software ...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    good ole Arizona

    Funny how our idiot governor never brags about what a thriving garbage/recycling industry we have here in Arizona. Long live the Waste Management (major local employer lol) Open golf tournament and its famous 16th drunk troll hole. Seriously though we get bad press but parts of Phoenix are very nice (rest of the state well ...)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: good ole Arizona

      re: "parts of Phoenix are very nice"

      Like Global Electronic's headquarters? (per Arizona Corporation Commission)

      But leave us not forget Arizona's fabulous "service" industry -- crap mart, big box, fast food, call center jobs galore! Rise up, unemployed Arizonans, McParadise is here!

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch

        Re: good ole Arizona

        Rise up, unemployed Arizonans, McParadise is here!

        You may laugh now, but if Bill Hicks is right and California slides into the ocean (like the mystics and statistics say it will), Arizona will have a huge amount of prime seafront property to get rich off.

        1. Crazy Operations Guy

          Re: good ole Arizona

          " California slides into the ocean"

          Actually the Pacific plate is pushing into the North American plate. If California where to move in any way, you'd end up with San Diego crushing Phoenix...

          1. td97402

            Re: good ole Arizona

            "Actually the Pacific plate is pushing into the North American plate. If California where to move in any way, you'd end up with San Diego crushing Phoenix"

            Map of San Andreas Fault Motion

            Nope. The California coast is sliding to the north (roughly) vs. inland California and the rest of the continent which is roughly headed south.

        2. jeffdyer

          Re: good ole Arizona

          Nothing like as much as Nevada though

        3. mstreet

          Re: good ole Arizona

          "You may laugh now, but if Bill Hicks is right and California slides into the ocean (like the mystics and statistics say it will), Arizona will have a huge amount of prime seafront property to get rich off."

          Good point Mr. Luthor!

      2. wayward4now

        Re: good ole Arizona

        Not to mention all of the California used car salesmen that roosted in Phoenix.

  5. adnim

    “acted at a minimum, with willful blindness to” Microsoft’s rights”

    Same here.... Such action should be lauded not punished.

    Before the down votes start.... Read MS EULA on all OS and application software and tell me that they give a fuck about your rights.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      EULA : Exercising Unique Lawyer Arguments to shirk any and every responsibility and/or liability

      But you still have to pay to get shafted.

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Dont tell me...

    these were office 2003 and windows XP licences and microsoft did'nt want anyone looking at their previous work, comparing it to the current offering and thinking "this new stuff is a pile of poo"

    In any case , what do M$ care.. they've been paid once for them.. or is it a case of pay and pay again because win 10 is'nt selling as expected.....

    1. Nolveys

      Re: Dont tell me...

      In any case , what do M$ care.. they've been paid once for them.. or is it a case of pay and pay again because win 10 is'nt selling as expected.....

      That's just what I was thinking. If I dump my car at the wrecker then does Dodge get to sue the wrecker if they sell my old starter motor to a third party?

      1. MD Rackham

        Re: Dont tell me...

        Depends on the EULA you accepted the first time you turned the key and activated the starter.

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Dont tell me...

        If it is sent to them as a Category A write-off, then yes.

  7. LDS Silver badge

    Customers may not be guitly...

    ... if they bought non counterfeited licenses from what could have looked a "reputable" reseller - it all depends on how these people sold the stolen goods.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Customers may not be guitly...

      Stolen denotes property theft which suggests they are goods. Go to Microsoft and complain that they should be sued under the sale of goods act for faulty goods or of unmerchantable quality and they bleat that it's a licence and therefore not goods.


      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Customers may not be guitly...

        The "Sales of Goods Act" is more correctly titled the "Sales of Goods and Services Act". However Microsoft are correct that computer software, as a licenced service, is not covered by the act as there is the technicality that the software itself is in the digital domain and therefore a copy of it is provided, without such a licence for the copy the customer would be in violation of copyright. (Note to the F.A.C.T. bullshitters: this would be a violation of copyright, never theft). So in some ways what you're really getting with software is a contract exempting you from copyright violation of the software.

        On the other hand the provision of this software is a service itself and is therefore covered by the Sales of Goods and Services Act, with the details around how much this provision extends into the software and how much is the supply of the software. For example if the medium that a company such as Microsoft supply the copy of licenced software on is found to be faulty or deficient, this is definitely covered by the Act. However beyond this point it starts to get very messy on the legal front with activations, licencing servers, product support terminations and so on.

        Anybody would have thought that the legal system hasn't noticed the birth of computers and is 50 years out of date...

        1. ChristiaanMurphy

          Re: Customers may not be guitly...

          In Europe you can buy and sell second-hand software licences, assuming that the licence grant is perpetual. The US should catch up!

  8. Proton Wrangler

    Company hired to destroy excess inventory, probably after a new release. I've seen it in the software industry though not at the 70,000 copy level (I think it was ~20 cases with 52 units each going to the shredding firm)

    So yes, It had to be pretty much outright theft. The customers could in some legal sense be liable for infringing copies, but I suspect there's no way to determine which customers (it's not like they keep a record of every 25 character key generated) and no halfway sane company) would go after users like that in any case

    1. td97402

      "halfway sane company"

      You mean the same company that has been secretly downloading a 6GB version upgrade of their without notice or permission?

  9. Camilla Smythe

    I'll be Out of Date...

    But I thought that if you had to take the lid off your computer to do something then you got the original licence gratis. Often, in the past, done on Flea Bay. XP professional with free SATA cable....

    So, buy the bit of wrap around metal from Global Electronics Recycling along with its sticker, it would seem you are good to go on your rebuild.

    Hello Neighbour. Laptop fucked. Not a problem I'll just.. Oh dear. Your wanking activities have destroyed the Label. That's OK. Have you got the original install disks. Oh fuck Silly me... Let's just recover them from the Hard Drive along with your Licence Keys. Aha... Windows is fucked. Let's just run the suggested 'recovery tool', he said knowingly.. Oh dear Windows is still fucked. Fortunately I have a spare copy of something on DVD that will sort you out. Still remember your Facebook/Gmail Password? Excellent. Give me half an hour... Here you go. Sorted... It's a damn sight faster but you wanted to look at stuff on PornHub as well? No I will not mention it to 'the wife'. Version 10? No this is version 17.2 What? Oh I found it via Google. Microsoft don't want you to know about it but Google leaked the release details.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What I'd like to know

    Who the hell actually BUYS Office 2010 licenses on the BLACK market?

    1. DanceMan

      Re: What I'd like to know

      ``Who the hell actually BUYS Office 2010 licenses on the BLACK market?``

      Have you seen who they vote for in that country?

      1. cd

        Re: What I'd like to know

        Tony Blair? Gordon Brown?

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: What I'd like to know

      The US Army?

  11. skeptical i

    Microsoft gets 70K additional customers and they complain?

    70K more people are now somewhere in the MS Office ecosystem instead of using Open/Libre/other Office. A bunch of new non-paying targets, er, customers may not be a win, but it's not a loss either.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Microsoft gets 70K additional customers and they complain?

      I would assume (in UK at least), it's on the same level as buying a car and finding out it's made up of scrap parts (office application) but using an authentic VIN number (license) to sell it, as there was never a contract between the old owners(who scrapped it, filled out the sold to a scrapyard part, not change of owner) and the salvage yard, by putting it back into circulation as a whole unit, they breach the agreement and the old owner can reclaim the car from whoever, even if bought in good faith.

      There's a host of statuatory rights that go with selling commercial stuff, even old stuff that makes the previous owner liable for things, which is why they have to use a disposal company and cannot just give them away.

  12. MJI Silver badge

    Certainly green

    Well it is no 2 in the Reduce Reuse Recycle list.

  13. Zmodem

    can buy a cross cut shredder on ebay for £30, most companies in the uk have secure bins shredded paper goes in

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. deconstructionist


    Having worked for Micro Spanner in the past I can assure you they have no idea on the licenses none at all they couldn't even tell you how many copies they sell per year , because of how they actually release product to them market, channel/partners/oem etc etc ..I am surprised they even they even noticed (which must mean someone stuck these greedy lads in )

    Because anybody thinks Microsoft found this out by their selfs well that's tinfoil hat time.

    1. mstreet

      Re: nope

      I worked at a disaster recovery company several years back, who would store images of their clients PC's and servers, with the intent of applying those images to identical hardware, and then shipping these "clones" of the clients hardware to the clients if they declared a disaster.

      When XP was released, the IT director at the company (in a truly stunning display of mind-numbing heroism) actually read the entire EULA, and discovered that what our company was doing was in a bit of grey area ( I.E.: 2 simultaneous installations of the same license, even though only one used at a time). He had me call up MS's licensing people to try and get a better idea of the legality of what we were doing.

      I talked to 3 different people at Microsoft, all in their licensing group, and received 3 different answers. I sent an email with all 3 replies I'd been given back to MS for clarification. They never responded.

      How is anyone supposed to feel sympathy for license violations, when MS clearly has no idea what their own legal mumbo jumbo means?

    2. MonkeyCee

      Re: nope

      I believe there was a chap buying MS products at staff discount, and re-selling them. He was buying millions of dollars of software a year, and it went unchecked for ages.

      If they can fail to notice that, and the usual round-the-houses bollocks of licencing. Plus the thousand ways around your legal rights for paying money for a good/service and how licensed software is actually paid for and made to work.

  16. Andus McCoatover

    Dumpster Diving. Hence the icon.

    How I get some decent lappies, free.

    Got a 'computer graveyard' near my place.

    Found a lovely machine, 17" display, loadsa ram (OK, 2Gigs), Vista onboard. DVD stripped. Fortunately, had a couple of DVD's at home from a previous 'forage'.

    Next to which, a smashed-up laptop with a Win-7 licence sticker (fortunately, both 32-bit*')

    Rest was easy. Expenditure? €10.

    Then, load, sweet-talk the operator (Mahatma Kote, I think his name was - might even be related) at Microsoft to let me licence it.

    Then - Win-10. Nirvana.

    *Someone explain why, when installing Atmel Studio 7, it wants 1Gig for 32-bit systems, but 2Gig for 64-bit, and why 32-bit seems to run faster than 64? (I have 2 computers for comparison). Well, I'm a Bear of Very Small Brain, and long words Bother me.

    (Sorry, A.A.Milne, not what You had in mind, I'm sure....)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    possible I got stuck with one of these licenses...

    I bought Office 2016 Professional Plus from an online store in like September or so.

    Everything was fine, Office activated without issue. Then my SSD died and I had to buy a new SSD and install everything again. While I was at it, I upgraded from Windows8.1 to Windows 10, which turns out to be a truly annoying upgrade that introduced severe malfunctions with Firefox.

    Either way, after installing Office 2016 on the system, I've been unable to activate it by either internet or phone. I just get that line that "You may have been the victim of Software Counterfeiting".


POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022