Scott Alan Miller

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Microsoft's Crazy Licensing Schemes

I recently queried Microsoft's anti-piracy group in reference to some questionable behaviour from a claimed "distributor" of their software. The distributor is selling copies of Microsoft software, presumably under their academic licensing program, without providing licenses or certificates of authority (COA's) for the products. Before contacting Microsoft, I went to their anti-piracy webpage to do some research on "how to tell" if the software was legitimate or not. Everything on their website lead me to believe, as I always have, that any properly licensed Microsoft product would come with a license and a COA. We have always used this as a guideline with our customers in helping them to determine when they have been sold or provided with stolen (pirated) software.

I emailed Microsoft with this information to find out more about the situation. This evening I received a reply from Microsoft stating that they offer some volume licensing or open licensing programs that would provide customers with Microsoft products that would not have licenses or COAs. In fact, Microsoft basically told me that we could never know if a product was legitimate or not since the software is being provided as a web download without any need for paperwork, media or anything.

What I want to know is what happens with the BSA (the Business Software Alliance - the organization that operates on behalf of a number of industry giants to protect against software piracy) audits a business or a person and find this "unlicensed" software. Or what if they ever find any software with license or COA. I have always understood that the company must maintain licenses for those products. But now we learn that there are similar situations available for home users. I can only imagine that knowing this fact will make it completely impossible to ever prosecute over pirated Microsoft software which is very infurating to a Microsoft partner company that survives based on Microsoft's efforts to not permit competitors who steal software to underbid us. Microsoft did all legitimate software vendors a real disservice today.

To rub salt into the wounds, Microsoft ended the email by pointing me back to the very websites that they maintain and told me to look there to find out the methods through which software could be sold. I am not sure if they are simply mocking me or if their anti-piracy team actually thinks that I, as a software reseller, should go out and sell products via Microsoft's Open Value program to home users. Could it be done? Of course. Does the license included with the program allow for that? Absolutely not. Imagine the low prices that we could sell every Microsoft product for if the entire world was under a single large volume license. But this is exactly what Microsoft's anti-piracy team was promoting tonight.

I have retained the email so that I would have documentation of this event. It is no wonder that companies are scared of dealing with anything involving Microsoft's licensing plans, even Microsoft can't figure out how to use them.


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