Clients with Pirate Software: Should We Do Anything About It?

If you spend any decent amount of time working on clients machines (especially residential ones), it wont take you long until you encounter a computer with pirate software on it. This can sometimes be just a few applications like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop; or the whole operating system itself.

The question was raised in the Technibble forums about how should we deal with computers that have pirate software on them and there were many different answers. Some said they will flat out refuse to work on a computer that has pirate software on it. Others said its none of our business what a client does with their own machine and will work on it anyway.

Some said they will tell the client that they have pirated software to make them aware of it, but not lecture. Others will recommend freeware alternatives in their place.

Another issue is, what if your competitor is installing pirate copies of Windows on the computers he is selling? Should you report them since they have the price advantage and leave yourself open to revenge tactics? or just let them kill themselves off as more customers find out their copies of Windows are pirate and cannot use them once Windows Genuine Advantage is installed?

What would you do? Would you flat out refuse to work on the machine? Turn a blind eye? Tell them and work on it anyway? Is it our responsibility to tell the client?

How would you deal with a competitor who was selling computers with pirated copies of Windows? Drop us a comment.

Bryce Whitty

About the Author

Bryce Whitty
More articles by me...
Bryce is an Australian computer technician and the founder of Technibble. He started his computer repair business when he was 17 years old and is still running it 9 years later. He is an avid traveller and spends at least a month of the year in another country.

Comments (67)

  • zbeckerd says:

    I would not involve myself. I always hope that bad deeds catch up with those who commit them. It rarely appears that way, but I have to hope.

    If asked about the practice I would tell the truth to them or a customer.

  • ComputerHero says:

    1st issue. Machines with Pirated software don’t qualify for our gauruntee or Managed service plan. I inform customers but leave it up to them. It’s their legal responsibility. We will not install, assist in installing or educate where to obtain pirated software. Otherwise it’s up to the user, it’s their agreement liability, not ours. Besides, our contract says they agree they have all the proper licenses.

    Not to mention, clients that cheap are generally bottom feeders anyway and care solely about price, they rather pay someone $30 10 times then $100 once. We drop clients like that.

    2. Yep, if a competitor is taking advantage of consumers like that, they get reported to the piracy association and consumer and corporate affairs. Guys selling pirated software are still charging for it and ripping everyone off, the EU things they have legit product (most of the time), the developer is out money, the state is out taxes, and I have to deal with the backlash. So yeah, snake-oil salesmen get put into the authorities database. I question the integrity of anyone that wouldn’t, if you won’t fight for a level playing field, then you probably have some skeletons in the closet too. It’s about integrity.

  • Muncher says:

    What I’ve done in the past is to let them know that the software they have is illegal and they should get legitimate copies of it. Almost each one of these times I’ve been there to clean spyware or viruses of that they got from the same sites they got the pirated software.
    If the problem I am there for is for software that is pirated I will tell them I can’t work on it.

    I agree with ComputerHero on #2.

  • Cuke says:

    I always tell the customer about pirated software and it’s dangers (including viruses, lack of updates, and that it’s just against the law), and I won’t reinstall it for them unless they get a legitimate version.

    I wouldn’t report a competitor. I’ve had my customers bring a computer in that I had installed legit software on and come to find out that they had had a ‘friend’ look at it and he installed a pirated copy of XP Pro to fix their problem. If that customer had taken the computer somewhere else that other tech might have learned from the customer that I had worked on it last and never known about the middle-man ‘help’.
    I don’t automatically assume everything I hear from customers is the truth (even if they think it is). The customer is not always right.

  • chuck817 says:

    If the client has a copy of pirated windows I tell them that in order to continue with me they must install a real copy of windows
    new clients must prove to me that they own a real copy of windows by showing me there copy of windows on the CD or DVD or restore disk from the manufacture

  • sys-eng says:

    First I warn them about the legality of using illegal software. I will show them free alternatives if they cannot afford to pay for it.

    I will work on the computer but I will not reinstall illegal software.

  • Tom Cole says:

    I handle it differently depending on whether the customer is a business or an individual.
    If an individual, I scare the dickens out of them with stories about the fines that can be levied, “even on unsuspecting, innocent people” as they usually see themselves.
    That usually either gets them to ask for legitimate software or confess to me where and how they ended up with a pirated copy.
    For a business, I simply tell them I can’t work on an unlicensed OS. Applications are their problem but I won’t reinstall them.

  • Amanda says:

    I stay out of it. I let the customer know they have illegal software on their computer, but it as far as it goes. I am not the law nor do I want to be the law. I do let them know of the fines involved and the amount of viruses associated with pirated software. I let them know that if they continue to keep downloading it, it will cause more problems and will probably have to see me again. Other than that, its their deamon they have to deal with; not mine. I mind my own business. I get paid to do a job and I do it.

  • Andrew says:

    At our shop, we have been quite lucky to not come across any pirated programs. Pirated operating systems is another thing.

    If someone brings in a system for repair and they do not have a product key on the system, we assume it is legitimate unless we have a reason to believe it is not (failed WGA, won’t update, etc). If a system without a product key needs to be reloaded, we will inform the customer that they must provide us with a legitimate product key or purchase a new one, which we have in stock.

    What really sucks is when people have an illegitimate OS and they do not know it, AND they actually have a product key. I had to work on an HP desktop one time, and it had an XP Home product key; however, the system was loaded with XP Pro without even SP1a on it. The guy had an out-of-the-home local tech work on it before. Now this is completely inexcusable. Load a pirated XP when the system has a legit XP key on it??? Jeez.

  • Stu Kopelman says:

    There is a moral obligation to do what you know is right. Many believe that being right means turning one’s head as if something wrong never existed. But the heart knows, apart from all the words one can muster, what is right and what is wrong. It is a law not to pirate. Why is that difficult to comprehend? Who then is perfect? Surely not me, but it benefits me when someone encourages me to do what I already know is the right thing to do.

    Should I help someone on his computer if I know that what I am working on is pirated? Only to the extent to share with him that it is, and that you would be more than happy to assist him in doing what is right. Anything more than that is only a dollar in a pocket and a bankrupt heart.

  • I bypass it unless it becomes a problem for windows updates or other activation problems.

    If that becomes the problem I give them 3 choices.

    1. “Legitimatize it”

    2. “Put on the original OS with valid serial” (Most hacked machines are upgraded from XP Home to XP pro or Vista Ultimate.)

    3. “Call them to pick it up and charge diagnostics fee.”

  • Tony says:

    I have been servicing clients both home & office. I would say that a large portion of them tend to have pirated software and/or illegal licenses. I explain the severity of the issues, fines etc. but do not belabor it. I suggest they remove the questionable software and that is usally the source of virus and trojan issues. Most have a listening ear and some do request it be removed. Long and short of it is that I do not condone the use of it and will NOT install nor support any illegal software. I show them alternatives and they are usually very happy with getting them installed. And they are excited that its usually FREE. Another happy and safer customer.

  • John says:

    My experience involves running in to pirated or illegal installs of OS. For me, the only time I have run in to or become aware of pirated applications such as Office or Adobe PS, etc. is when the OS is so compromised that I have to re-install it.

    I will not install a pirated or illegal OS for anyone under any circumstances. Nor, will I be involved in reinstalling applications that are not legal. When it comes to the OS, if they do not have the restore CD or a restore partition, and need the OS reinstalled I will only install the OEM version of the OS that they have a COA for on their computer. I explain to them that any software that they have installed and for which they do not have legal media to reinstall with is their responsibility. I have lost out on a few jobs here and there because there are others out there that will do whatever it takes to make the money.

    All this said I am not in the business of policing software licensing. If I run across an illegal installation I let the customer know. If they happen to tell me it is John Doe from XYZ Company and I know that this company or technician does this routinely I will tell the customer. But that is where it stops. I don’t have the time to worry about what other companies are doing. Yes, I miss out and will continue to miss out on some jobs because I will not participate in installing illegal or pirated software. But those are not the kind of jobs I want in the first place. My demographic is middle class baby boomers and by and large, they are all willing to spend the extra money to become or remain legit.

  • Warren says:

    ComputerHero (is that a sandwich?) summed it up from the start.

    If I have to enter a product key it must be genuine and we have to see the sticker.

    If I can fix it without entering a key and licensing or WGA are not an issue then there is no problem. We tell the customer about the mismatch but there is nothing more to do.

    If the customer has a bogus key or the “friend upgraded me” so their key/sticker is XP Home and the install is XP Pro, they get what is on the real sticker.

    Customers with license issues usually pay the price by having to buy a license or get reinstalled loosing all that free software. They normally would not warrant further action. We are not the police nor agents of Dark Lord Bill. A computer shop, however, that is selling bogus licenses hurts everyone. The proper thing to do in that case is tell Microsoft.

  • Ron says:

    Personally, this is one reason why I prefer to use Linux in my home and office. there aren’t any licensing issues – ever. For those people who are willing to change to a free/open-source environment, I assist them and encourage them to do so at whichever level them are comfortable with (be it just applications or as I recommend, the OS and applications), but Linux isn’t the right choice for everyone, nor does it suit everyone’s needs….. so some people are stuck with Windows (example: gamers).

    I am a huge proponent of free/open-source operating systems and environments along with non-proprietary systems be it hardware or software. I encourage everyone to look at that viable route. I foresee huge growth in the Linux market share, but time will tell on that prediction.

    I think there are a lot of good points made here, yes, turn in the PC repair place that sells/installs pirated software, do not install/support pirated operating systems and/or software, inform people but not not act as the police, and yes, if Windows does not update due to a WGA/licensing issue, (which does not always mean it is an illegal copy of the OS), etc etc, I think each situation needs to be looked at individually; although I would never knowingly install,, work with, support or do anything illegal.

  • psyelmer9 says:

    I do agree with everyone, i will explain them the risk of using illegal software. i will surely never install any illegal software nor os.
    and as the comments from above say, the software they get is the software they had the license key.

  • zbeckerd says:

    As stated in my first post, I believe in truth, and honesty. I would not load a illegal copy onto a customers machine. I tell the as much.

    Just for fun I would like to remind everyone here that Gates, Balmer and cohorts had some of the most corrupt business practices ever. The law is on their side because they have the money and know how to manipulate the system. But these men are/were pirates. Many times they have been found to have stolen others intellectual property using a lawyer model of dishonesty. This model is… by the time we settle we will have made 10 times the money as the settlement costs us. Some might argue that this is “just business”, but I say it is corrupt.

    This does not change my personal integrity on how “I” do business. Just thought in the case of MS$ that some additional thought is needed.

  • Richard says:

    “someone $30 10 times then $100 once”

    “own a real copy of windows by showing me there copy of windows”

    “get reinstalled loosing all that free”

    Why can’t you just learn to spell?

  • Ron says:

    uh oh.. the spelling nazis have made their way onto the system.

  • Dave says:

    I was going to reply here the other day and then I caught caught up with a ton of work and yet another PC with a pirated copy of Windows.

    This was a new client and they had the WPA all over the place, which they were hoping i would fix. I never make assumptions but I do inquire. This lady had told me the hard drive crashed a while back, so she took it to a computer shop, and they loaded Windows XP Pro onto the PC when she had a perfectly legal key on the side for Windows XP Home.

    In this case I let this new client know this shop did a disservice to her, in the way of all the WPA issues and the fact that updates are disabled and how it leaves her vulnerable to viruses.

    I recommended that she let me do a fresh install of XP Home on the PC, so for now shes waiting but she said next month she will have the funds. All i had to do was add in a wireless card, so i didn’t have to enter in a license key.

    I tell customers that the license on the case is what will be installed unless they show me another legitimate key in their possession.

    As i will not touch, install or even talk about ways to obtain pirated software, but i do let them know how loaded with viruses those copy’s can be. I also will not do a written service contract with a business unless all their copy’s of windows and office are in fact genuine.

  • Hank says:

    I will sometimes see some program and think “That is likely pirated” but unless I am going to need to reinstall it or mess with it I don’t ask any questions. The OS is a diffrent beast but not too much agian if in the course of the repair it is discovered I would stop there but otherwise agian I am not asking. I will assume things are legit until I can prove otherwise. I will inform the client of this finding and thier options which are to purchase or uninstall as it tends to mean I am working on the program in question or it is a piece of the problem. These also come up when a reformat is required as I will inform them that all programs will need to be reloaded.

  • BigMo says:

    So your driving 30 minutes, wasting time and gas to get to a site. You get to the site and by some miracle you look at a Windows box and find out its a fugazee. Are you seriously telling me that you will tell the customer you cant service them and get back in your car?

    Our job is to fix a broken machine. I couldnt care less if the machine is has a pirated OS. All of us are on here downloading Leaked Windows 7 builds, and im not referring to 7000 or Windows 7 RC. Half of you people on here are on some torrent site every day.

    If i were a software vendor, and someone came to me with a pirated copy, i would NOT fix it.

    But we are Computer Repair people. Not software morally correct angels. People call us because they have a problem. We are supposed to fix it. Make the customer happy. Your telling me your going to go to a clients HOME and accuse them of STEALING? Let’s be serious. This is a bad economy. Did we sign an oath? I will not work on machines with pirated software? Do we get incentives from Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs? Bill Gates idea was a complete rip off from other software vendors. They started out in piracy in the first place.

    The best thing we can do is say, it seems the software does not let me do updates because its a cracked version. But to refuse work? That is rediculous.

    Do you know how many laptops purchased on ebay EVERY DAY have pirated software? Do you think the innocent purchaser knows its not an authentic windows? Poor old lady then has a problem and then your going to refuse her service? Because you have some moral obligation to Microsoft. Then you go back home to your leaked Windows 7068 Build or Pirated Black XP cd and chat about it to your wife/husband or friends?

  • BigMo says:

    Just so I dont get confused, I wanted to add a few tidbits. I don’t condone piracy. Software people NEED to get paid.

    Secondly I dont Use any pirated software in my toolkit PERIOD.

    The only question I was referring to is “Refusing to work on a Pirated Machine”.

    So that we are all clear, I don’t walk around with a pirated toolkit. I take pride in my toolkit. And by the way, I love Languard, I have been using that for over 7 years.

  • Natasha Ward says:

    I have not signed a piece of paper declaring that I will report pirated software or that I will refuse to work on systems that have pirated software installed. Therefore, I am not legally obligated to enforce copyright laws upon our customers. What I am bound to, as a technician, is to respect the law as it pertains to my use of software, which means installing legitimate products on computers I work on. I do make customers aware of the dangers of pirated software.

    I don’t call the police when I see people speeding down the highway. Its not my job to police the world. If I reported every customer for piracy, we’d have no customers at all. Piracy is an issue precisely because of how many people do it. To dictate that its the responsibility of a repair technician to report, moderate, and maintain copyright laws when the United States government can’t do it is asking a little much. Don’t you think?

  • Ron says:

    @Natasha Ward and others….

    While it is not our place to be the software police and search for such things, it is a matter of legality and liability, (as well as personal moral and ethics), that should concern each and every one of us.

    What if you discover child porn? Do you just let that slide? That too is illegal. So how is it right to NOT report pirated software, but it is right to report child porn? What makes one law more worthy than another? Why would you follow some laws and not others?

  • Natasha Ward says:

    Its simple. Child pornography is an issue of safety. Tell me how piracy brings bodily harm to people? This is like comparing apples and oranges – at least to my moral sensibilities.

  • Ron says:

    @Natasha Ward

    It sounds like your moral sensibilities are flexible, which the law is not. Illegal is illegal, and that is my point….. How can you abide by one law and not another?

    Remember, is it not the moral or ethics by which, or the intent with which, the law was written; but rather is is what the law says verbatim that is what matters. So once again, how can you choose to abide by one law and not by another?

  • Votre says:


    The morals, ethics, and intent with which a law was written has a huge bearing on how it is interpreted and enforced in a court of law. There are very few ‘strict constructionists’ sitting on the bench in our judicial system. Hard literal interpretations of a given law (especially with regards to criminal charges) are the exception rather than the rule in most cases decided on by a court.

    You also won’t find many attorneys, prosecutors, or judges that would agree with your statement that “illegal is illegal.” For better or for worse (depending on your point of view) our judicial system, by design, is much more sophisticated and flexible than that.

  • Ron says:

    @Votre, that still doesn’t answer my original question(s) for Natasha…..

    What makes one law more worthy than another?

    Why would you follow some laws and not others?

  • Techie from north says:

    My policy is that I will not:
    1.Install pirated
    2.Repair pirated
    3.Bypass any protection
    If the problem is anyway linked to say, pirated os then I will not fix it. But if the problem has nothing to do with pirated software then I will mention about those illegal software to the costumer and offer alternatives if I know any, but will fix the problem they came for.

  • Hank says:

    @BigMo I will not accuse them atleast not directly I tend to imply that I think they may be unaware that the software is pirated. I will work on the PC if it can be fixed but I will not work on the pirated software. If the software is the OS and the fix is updates or reinstall then my work stops there. I will do a reinstall if there is a legitimate key and they agree to the reinstall of the legitimate OS version. So after all that if there is nothing they will let me do then I will leave and there would still be a call out fee as they opted to not let me fix it. A client who would chose to steal his software is likely not the type of customer a business wants he is out for the quick fix the cheap fix not the proper fix.

  • Ed says:

    If I come across priated software on a PC I am fixing, I will mention to the customer its not a good idea. If the OS is priated, I will tell them in order for me to reinstall it, they need to purchase a windows cd with a cd key and valid license or that I can install Linux on it at no additional cost. I will how ever clean it up for them using some antimalware/antivirus software the best I can.
    Depending on the age of the PC, I may mention that they could buy a used or refurbed computer with a valid copy of windows often cheaper than a retail version of windows for their computer.


  • Teknyka says:

    When I dispose of old computers I keep their product keys. If a customer comes in to reimage their PC, and they do not have a legitimate Windows product key, I will offer them one free of charge.

    After I reinstall the OS I’ll also install a free version of anti-virus, OpenOffice, and Gimp. I ask the customer if there is any other kind of software that they may have a need for and recommend free versions. That way the customer doesn’t have much reason to pirate software.

  • Richard says:

    I just had a client last week who bought a new computer complete with a corporate copy of XP pro and office 2000 on it, i informed the client who stated that he assumed it was pirated but didn’t care because it was cheaper than others with more stuff. The trader was selling on so i searched for a computer that matched the clients box and what do you know he’s got more for sale a little phone call to microsoft which i have no problems doing as the seller is basically a competitor with an unfair and illegal advantage.
    Usually on clients computers i inform them and will do all work i can without doing anything illegal i.e reloading an os or office

  • InterNet Age says:

    This is a cracker of a question. If your competitor is hurting you by offering free operating systems I foresee scant alternative but to report him. However make sure your house is in order, because things of this nature have a nasty habit of backfiring / reciprocating.

  • BigMo says:

    @Teknyka Your Method is cool but against MOST EULA’s especially Microsofts. Read…. Up

  • Matthew says:

    I sold a new computer where I work (and the client wanted data moved from the old one to the new one, which I did) and they asked:

    “Did you reinstall LimeWire?”

    I was stunned, and I said “I’m sorry, but we don’t install any P2P programs on our computers, that’s up to you to install. Sorry.”

    The computers we sell are brand new, and we don’t want people saying “OMG YOU PUT LIMEWIRE ON IT YOU [censored]” when they requested it, or a lawsuit from installing P2P by default on computers.

  • Richard says:

    I once had a microsoft rep call in to my office he started the converstation with i’m so and so from microsoft and i will need to see your licences for any microsoft software you have installed, after my intial dumbfounded reaction he talked a bit about us buying from a certain supplier to get noticed and better pricing and when he finished the converstation he said now seriously i need to see your licences to which i replied “that was funny the first time mate, second time it’s just annoying” anyway he left never heard or seen of him since and he never saw any licences (We use action pack software anyhow and practice what we preach)

  • gunslinger says:


    I could not have said it better.

    “@Votre, that still doesn’t answer my original question(s) for Natasha…..

    What makes one law more worthy than another?

    Why would you follow some laws and not others?

    I’ll answer that. One law makes sense to me and fits with my morals the other does not. Yes there are some laws I’ll follow and some I wont. When a law is unreasonable you are foolish to follow it.

    Also how the hell can you compare pirated software to child porn? You seem to have some serious issues.

  • Ron says:


    No serious issues here at all.

    Yes, obviously child porn is more serious than pirated software, but that’s not the point. We aren’t talking about personal morals and ethics here, we’re talking about the law, strictly from the legal aspect of it.

    “I’ll answer that. One law makes sense to me and fits with my morals the other does not. Yes there are some laws I’ll follow and some I wont.”

    I agree, from a personal moral and ethic point of view, but from a legal point of view, you are still choosing to break a law. Now granted, breaking some laws, I doubt they are going to chase you down and come after you, but still… that’s not the point.

    “When a law is unreasonable you are foolish to follow it.”

    Tell that to the judge.

  • Votre says:

    I forgot to mention that we have all our clients sign a form stating that they understand certain software products are protected under applicable US and international laws, and accept full responsibility for obtaining any necessary clearances for their legal use.

    We include some additional legal verbiage that basically says that as a condition of obtaining support services from us, our customer formally states that they hold the legal right to use any and all software products in their possession.

    We also include an indemnification clause whereby the client agrees to accept full responsibility for any licensing and compliance issues that may emerge as a result of any work we perform at their request. And we insist that they sign it before we do any work on their machines. No exceptions.

    I’ve only had to pull a tech out from an assignment once because somebody refused to sign – and that firm got nailed big time a few years later when a terminated employee turned them in for bootlegging MS Office. Sure glad we weren’t working with them when it happened!

    Now a sheet of paper won’t automatically get you off the hook if your client gets into licensing trouble. (Or if you’ve gained a reputation for always turning a blind eye to things even a five year old would recognize as illegal.)

    But it can allow you to make the argument that you exercised ‘reasonable diligence’ and made a ‘reasonable effort’ at making your client aware of software licensing compliance if you ever do find yourself in court.

    And that alone makes it well worth getting a signature on a form!

  • Ron says:

    @Votre, Can I get a MS Word document of that form please?

    ron [at]

  • Alfred says:

    I am little surprised here. I do my work in Africa and trust me, over 80% of software in the market is pirated.

    Let me put it this way; You will hardly come across genuine stuff unless you get it with a shipped computer. Most computers which apparently come as ‘used’ always never have any accompanying software.

    Practically everyone dealing in computer repair has his copies of pirated software. Surprisingly, everybody thinks its normal and many sell them in the open market.

    Now about accessing Microsoft updates it will surprise you that a good number of these pirated software have been crafted smartly and are rated genuine by Microsoft websites.

    I am sure Microsft is aware of this but the company is also aware that most home users would not part with the price tag. In any case most computers sell at lower prices than genuine software!

    These software seem to come from Asia.

  • MikeB says:

    Moral high ground never fed a family. Having said that I am in a position where I can pick and choose my clients so if I don’t like what they have installed then I won’t work for them.

    Anyone dumb enough to be in business and uses pirated software deserves everything it gets.

    If I find that the problems they are reporting is because of a dodgy copy of an OS or Office package then I will screw them to the wall with fees which will also include the cost of a legitimate copy of the program in my quote plus extra time to get rid of the rubbish.

  • CrashUK says:

    I am starting out in computer repairs.

    I use Pirate Software on my own computer as it saves me a lot of money as I also have 4 computer so the cost would be times by 4 times.

    But I will never install Pirate Software on any ones computer as you can get called back.. software can stop working if update I have had this with friends when I have put Pirate version of nod32 on they computer it works for a bit then it pops up saying you need to buy the software. If I had installed software like this as a business then I would be out of business very fast as people would report me or call me back to fix it.

    I am looking in to OEM software.. is they anyway of stocking OEM software with out buying it.. like pay as you use it.. I dont see why microsoft can not do this with windows xp home and vista. Microsoft could bill me when WGA is done.

    looking in to get some copys of Avira antivirus oem versions to sell on. antivirus is easy to sell.

  • ifelloutofatree says:

    illegal is illegal there’s no use arguing the point, however I’m a bit gobsmacked by the ego’s of all who think its their right or duty to report or otherwise on a client. If you are a professional your client should be able to trust you, they are employed by you. If you don’t want to work on the system don’t and tell them why, but those of you policing the universe need to get your egos under control. I assume a client trusts me because I am trustworthy. I don’t peek into their systems to see what they have. I fix the thing which is what I’m asked to do. I’m not paid to be judge jury and executioner on how they live their lives. If you discover illegal software you can inform the client its illegal and advise them you wont be able to work on their system in the future. But to report them is a betrayal of the trust they placed in you. You are not a professional you are just self righteous and perhaps should look in your own closet. Finding child porn however is quite a different matter, one is a crime against humanity, how can you even compare pirate software against that.

  • Ron says:


    In regards to “Finding child porn however is quite a different matter, one is a crime against humanity, how can you even compare pirate software against that.”

    From Post #40:

    “Yes, obviously child porn is more serious than pirated software, but that’s not the point. We aren’t talking about personal morals and ethics here, we’re talking about the law, strictly from the legal aspect of it.”

  • Sqeaky says:

    Silly me, I thought that most US, European, and Asian districts had ruled in favor against EULA’s validity (Australia and the US Midwest have ruled in favor for EULA). Something about tacking on legal requirements after a legitimate purchase has been made.

    Either way MS will do things to people distributing pirated software, because that is very illegal. Making discs to sell and uploading torrents are both blatant copyright infringement. The whole License thing that Teknyka brought up, yes according to the EULA the license follows the motherboard, but as long as you use the customer’s disc(legit or not) and a real sticker there is nothing technically illegal about this. Morality is another issue I will leave to each one’s self.

  • Jimmy James says:

    For XP I have a VLK I purchased a while back, but I rarely have to use it because fixing the machines isn’t usually a problem. For windows vista I have a dvd that has all the different OEM version on it, and you select which one during the install process. I got it from a warez site, but it isn’t actually illegal. Same with some drivers, I got an All In One from a warez site that contains ‘100,000 windows drivers’. The drivers are free, so no harm has come of it. As for illegal software, we inform them they have illegal software (fake ‘looked shocked’ face on client) and recommend free versions. As for illegal Windows, part of our virus removal service is to update the operating system from Windows Update. If it fails then we stop working, tell them to collect the computer, make them pay, and tell them they won’t get security updates and shizzle.

  • Ian says:

    I always tell clients that their software is ilegal. If they know it is then I won’t lecture them I just drop it, it is frankly none of my business.

    If they have been sold pirated software usualy through a cheap base unit with a dodgy copy of Windows pro then I will then.

    There is alot of PCs which my clients had to scrap because the windows was ilegal, I have refused to do work on it and it was not viable paying a fortune for a COA on top of labour.

  • Anthony says:

    Question about the OS issue. Say if the customer has Vista Home Premium on there computer with the Home Premium tag on it, but have a downloaded copy of the OS. Would you install it or not. I believe that this is a grey area being as the technically own Vista and this could be considered their backup copy.

  • Jason S says:


    Of course it would be morally correct to report someone for possessing child pornography but it begs the question; what were you doing sifting through peoples photos when you were supposed to be fixing their computer in the first place?

    The only time I EVER need to go near a clients personal data or photos is when I’m doing a backup on a failed/corrupt drive, and even then I don’t have to examine any individual files because it’s as simple as checking the box next to the folders to copy. Any client could hypothetically have videos of himself snorting cocaine off of nude 12 year olds in the back of a stolen pickup truck shooting heroine while smuggling illegal immigrants across the border and I would have no idea because EVERYONE who brings a machine into my shop has a right to privacy.

    It is not your job to be sifting through a clients personal data and photos when performing a repair any more than it is a mechanics job to sift through the personal belongings in your vehicle when performing an oil change. Violating a users right to privacy is absolutely NOT ethical or acceptable under any circumstances, for ANY reason. There is hardly any situation conceivable that would necessitate you, me, or any tech to actually be closely examining the personal data on someones machine.

    So while you may have caught a pedophile bringing his computer in for a tune-up; you’re violating users’ right to privacy on a regular basis, and that is absolutely not acceptable.

  • Jason S says:

    In regards to the question posed to this discussion thread it depends on if it is an application or the OS and if it relates to the repair or maintenance that I’ve been hired to perform on the machine(s).

    If it is a pirated OS but let’s say the memory is bad, then it’s a hardware issue and not the OS. I will likely have no idea the OS is even pirated. I don’t check licenses on individual machines for the same reason I don’t check license plates when I’m driving home from work; because I’m not the police and I’m not Microsoft.

    Say for example I need to format and reinstall the OS. Now the issue is directly related to the OS, and I require a legit product key in order for the newly installed OS to function. I automatically install whatever the sticker is on the machine, if it’s XP Home that’s what they get, no questions asked. I’ve never had a client come back to me and have any issues with this, ever.

    If there’s no sticker then I call the client and ask them to locate the material that came with the computer. If they cannot then I will help them contact the manufacturer with the serial number to see if the manufacturer can provide it. This is all actually a lot less work than it sounds. It takes two seconds to realize there’s no sticker and literally a minute or two to contact the customer and tell them what I require. I have a list of 800 numbers for all of the major computer manufactures that take me directly to human beings.

    If none of the above works then I will inform them that they can purchase an OEM license from us, or I can install trial software and they can deal with it on their own. I have literally NEVER had any problems following these steps. And as I said, if their problem is not OS related then there’s no reason why you should be snooping around in their sh!t in the first place.

    In regards to applications the same rule basically applies. If someone hires me to do virus removal then that’s exactly what I do except that I will attempt to hunt down the source of the badware. If it turns out to be a file-sharing program I inform the customer that I offer a 30-day guarantee on my work, the only stipulations being that they must have a functioning anti-virus and uninstall the file-sharing software for the duration of the guarantee; and that’s ONLY because file sharing programs are known to be cesspools of malware, NOT because I make baseless assumptions that everyone with uTorrent is a thief. 90% of the time people who get badware from p2P don’t have a clue what they’re doing and they’ll gladly uninstall it once they realize it’s the thing that’s been screwing up their machine. If they want to leave it on there machine then I tell them what to be wary of, that I cannot guarantee system stability, and if the problem returns they will be charged full price for repairs.

    HOWEVER; I will NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES inspect the applications on a users machine to attempt to determine if they all have legitimate licenses because I DO NOT ASSUME MY CLIENTS ARE CRIMINALS. There is simply no reason to ever do so, even if a pirated application is causing crashes I probably won’t ever have any idea that it’s pirated because checking the license status on a buggy program has nothing to do with my job. I simply uninstall the app and inform them they need to reinstall it from the disc.

    With all that being said, I understand there is always the random/weird situation that pops up that you’ve never thought of, and if that ever happens I will do whatever is within my boundaries to do in order to rectify the situation WITHOUT violating anyone elses privacy or breaking their trust. It’s important to note that I have NEVER had any problems like that. Someone earlier actually said ‘most’ users have pirated software and I seriously doubt that person has ever actually worked as a tech because that simply isn’t the case.

    On a side note, the only people who have ever asked me personally to help install pirated software are personal friends who just want to screw around with Photoshop for a few hours but aren’t graphic designers and don’t want to blow hundreds of dollars on it. In that case I tell them no, I can’t do that because it could jeopardize my job as a tech and they usually understand.

  • Jason S says:


    There’s no way to know if a client downloaded the OS or installed it from the disc. Even if they downloaded it they still would have had to burn it to a disc somehow to install it. If you’ve ever actually worked as a tech then you probably know that the vast majority of individual users DON’T have/can’t find the discs that shipped with their machine anymore and when they bring it into your shop don’t expect them to have it.

    That’s why you keep OEM discs laying around so when you see the Vista Home sticker, you grab your Vista Home disc and do the install. You can install Vista from any media, it doesn’t matter. Just the other day I had to download an image of XP Media Center addition because I couldn’t find my OEM disc for it and that’s what the customer’s license(sticker) was for. You pay for the license to use it, not the media it’s copied on, that’s why you have to enter the product key and go through the activation process.

  • Jayman says:

    I’m not a technician, but around where i live, amongst my friends, anyways, I’m the most computer-savvy individual. My problem lies with another person who lives across the street, who rants and raves about how good he is in fixing computers. I’ve spoken with him many times, and even got into a big argument with him, because some of the things he says about computers is just plain stupidity. I can’t even imagine where he’d pick up stuff like that, so i imagine he makes it up as he goes along. During that time, people turned their backs on me, my friends!, because i dared speak against him. i learned to shut my mouth, and once in a while, i even go visit him. Thing is, this guy has installed the same pirated version of XP Pro on all my friends computers. I have to say, my friends are far from middle class. i might say trash class, but they don’t live there. so no one has the money to buy legit copies of anything. Their PC’s come from a friend of a friend who has upgraded to something more powerful. I’d really like to make it big one day, but with no official education, i start pretty small. So when my friends come back to me slowly, with their head down, and admitting openly that i was right all along, and savagely turning their attention on how the other dude misled them, I just have to help them. Now, morals or no morals, pirated software is illegal. i used to have tons (feather-light) of pirated software in my computer. i stopped slowly installing them. my goal once was to learn how to modify the program to make it work without any keys, but now, i really like finding problems in computers and fixing them. but i know my friends (and their friends, and the friends of those friends) generally DON’T have the means to buy legal software. So generally, most of the programs in their PC’S are illegal. I don’t even have to inform them of it, they already know. but if I’d refuse to work on it, I’d have no extra income to get by the end of the month. And of course, they’ll just go back to Bozo across the street, tell him what an idiot i am and that i know nothing of computers, and life would continue, with me having no extra income. So if the computer needs a re-installation of the OS, i use whatever disk they have. I also inform them that what they can do is activate the account, and when they are informed it is pirated, follow the link online, and they’ll be able to purchase a valid key for THAT copy of their disk, and it would be legal. And they’d have no more problems with that, and that i cost between 100 and 200 dollars. then they say they have no credit card. i say i do, and if they would want, i could pay it, and they’d be able to pay me back slowly over a few months. they think about it, and generally come back to me soon, because they now are being bugged by Microsoft because of an illegal OS.
    but i certainly am not gonna report them. And i hesitate reporting the fellow across the street, cause he just had a baby boy, so cute, and life’s tough! Also, i wouldn’t have the money to repair my car if ever he decided to revenge himself. Who else would of reported him? I’m his only competition.

  • Jayman says:

    Sorry. I don’t cost between 100 and 200 bucks, the Key does.

  • JW The Computer Guy says:

    In all honesty, I think that what people do on their coputers is none of my business. The only time I would offer a genuine copy of Windows would be if it can’t get updates. I’m pretty we wouldn’t like it if someone started looking around all our stuff.

  • PCTECH says:

    I would not tell the customer that his software is pirated unless the problem is with the pirated software,then i would explain that you will need to purchase a lagit copy or freeware copy of the software,then i would show the customer where they can get the freeware versions of software.saying that in my experience with customers all they want is their pc fixed.

  • Eddie says:

    Some people have come to me for help with their computers. Many times they were very old computers because they would never have the money to pay for it, and was a hand me down from someone else who had a newer one. Almost always they never had an operating system cd. When I tell them that this old computer will cost them $100 for just a license, they want no part of it because they can’t afford it. I feel sorry for these folks because of their situations. Many are on limited incomes, and would certainly allow anyone to install a pirated version of MS, just so they can have a computer. Most people with new computers have no installation cds whatsover. When I ask them about it, they have no idea what I’m talking about.

  • Paramortal says:

    1. If a user has pirated software, I inform them of the fact, and the pitfalls involved, and then I often direct them towards cheap or free alternatives – Photoshop -> GIMP, MS Office -> OpenOffice, Tuneup Utilities -> Glary Utilities, etc!

    2. I’ll fix a pirated OS if I can. If the problem is being caused by the fact that it was pirated, I’ll definitely inform the customer of that fact.

    I like to teach my customers about free software alternatives. Many of them simply aren’t aware that so many good software packages are free – or that there are alternative Operating Systems available that are free as well!

  • PaulD says:

    I’m fairly new to the game and studied by correspondence and so don’t get to network very much. For this reason this site is a real goldmine.

    I’ve been building my business for about 2 years now and can almost give up my day job.

    I never use or install non-legitimate software but I didn’t realise that you can use a generic install disk and use the product key on the sticker.

    I’ve been lucky enough to not have to reinstall where the customer either didn’t have a disk or recovery partition to use but I’m sure I will do in the future.

    Where do you buy the generic operating system disks to use in these cases?

    Sorry for my ignorance in this matter but as I said – this is the first forum I’ve found solely populated by technicians.

    Happy holidays.

  • Pedro says:

    I honestly do not believe that service should be denied based on pirated software. I mean I will not install or download or advise on where to get software, but honestly, why refuse service? Software developers SHOULD be paid, but there’s nothing we can really do to stop piracy. If you don’t want to fix a pirated PC, who cares? The customer will just take it to someone who will and they win. I mean who gives a damn if a PC comes in with a pirated copy of windows? Who cares if all their software is pirated? There is NO law that states that you cannot service a pirated system. Besides, just because they had a pirated copy of XP, Vista, or 7, does not mean that it will thwart you. If someone wants you to reinstall windows for them, simply use the real license along with the software it is for. Stop thinking that you are a great person for denying service. Honestly, you’re a retarded business owner if you refuse to service machines that have had pirated software. As long as you don’t install, download, or condone illegal software, what does it matter? Stop trying to make decisions for others.

  • DavidClark says:

    This isn’t an easy situation with a cookie-cutter solution.
    Each instance is different because the components are unique to the owner/client.
    I’m more intrested in the OS and the major packages. The most pressing question garnering my attention revolves around the possibility/probability of an illegal/infected install causing the complaint. But the bottom line is simple;I’ll not hazard my reputation between clients. They talk amongst themselves and I don’t savor developing that sort of reputation,for when you do something for one, others come to expect the same. I’m liking Ubuntu more and more. In a few years, The Cloud resolves most of these problems anyway.

  • bob says:

    I recently took some computer classes here at East Los Angeles Occupational Center.

    My teacher told us a story, one of his students went to a nearby computer store to buy something.
    While he was waiting at the counter the place was raided by law enforcement etc.

    They questioned him and he left but they took some employees away. I guess they were using a key generator to install copies of windows.

    And I’ve heard that if microsoft thinks you are selling bogus software they will have someone come out under cover. They will come to your business and ask to buy something and then you will get busted.

  • John Smith says:


    I am a certified computer technician. However, I need to obtain copies of OEM Microsoft Windows Installation CD’s for customers that don’t got their OEM CD’s with them, and they have a problem that warrants their OS to be reinstalled when they have the COA sticker on their computers. I need a matching CD for every possible OEM version out there since it appears its legal to HAVE the CD when you pair that with the customers COA sticker when performing a reinstall.

    What do I have to do to get my hands on these CD’s without any keys???


  • Good article and topic. I usually do not do too much besides just mentioning to the person that they could get into trouble for it and that they should be careful. I will often advise them to think about getting rid of the pirated software as well.

  • I have clients who knowingly put cracked software on their machines. I have refused to help them place such software on their machines. But otherwise, it is not my business, and I will work on their machines.

    If I was not certain they knew they had hacked or unlicensed software on their PC’s I would certainly document and inform them of such, but not take any position one way or the other. That is not my job.

    I have on occasion determined the hacked software was responsible for whatever the PC’s problem was and sought permission to remove the software.

    If I sold PC’s — I don’t — heck yes I would report a competitor who was installing cracked OS’s. I would do so anonymously.

    I do recommend free software or OS’s to clients, but often such software is not supposed to be free for commercial uses.