I was disputing with one person about buying software licenses. For example, on ebay/aliexpress there are offers to buy Microsoft Office for 2 USD or Adobe PhotoShop for 3 USD. For me, it cannot be true and probably licenses are illegal. But another person argued that it does not matter until software works and in worst-case he will lose that 2-3 USD.

My question is not about if this kind of software is legal or illegal (probably not). My question is about the legal responsibility of a person who lives in the western world (USA/European Union) and bought these things.

If a person truly believed that this license is legal when he was buying software. If the person did not know that license is illegal. Will it lead to any legal consequences for him? What will be the worst-case scenario? Will he go to jail or he will have to just delete this software and lost 2 USD?


Please only consider the case when the person bought it and installed it successfully on his own PC for personal use only. He really uses it and it works fine. He did not give it to someone else. He did not share it. He did not put it on the Internet. Only 1 installation to 1 home PC for personal use.

Do not consider companies, the question is only about personal use. Everything related to business is much more complicated.

Also, situation, when the person bought the software but did not install/use it, does not make any sense. Do not consider it.


As I understand from answers and comments, basically there is no difference from the legal point of view between buying and installing $2 license or downloading/installing from crazy sites for free (for example Microsoft Office, which normal price from vendor Microsoft is $150).

Let's say there are 2 situations:

  1. Normal person, has no much knowledge in IT (waiter in the restaurant, construction worker, etc.). The person wants to buy Microsoft Office for home use. He just wants to write a nice CV to get a better job. He saw Microsoft Office a few times in his current job and wants to have it at home. He has no idea who much it really cost. What he did: Google "buy cheap Microsoft Office", open ebay/aliexpress, click buy, download, install. done. everything works for him for $2. He also read on the seller side or contacted the seller, that this license is legal and the whole page of explanation why it is so cheap. What did he do wrong?
  2. IT Professional who knows how much is it. He was using it for 20 years in the office, etc. He buys/downloads it from ebay/aliexpress for $2 and pretends that he has the legal license and did not know that it is fake, but of course, he knows that 95% it is not.

Is there any difference between these 2 cases from the legal point of view or worst-case Legal consequences will be the same? Or what would be "worst-case Legal consequences" and "most probable Legal consequences" in case if it will be revealed?

2 Answers 2


First of all, it is possible that the software is in fact legal. Copies of older versions bought in bulk for resale but never sold are sometimes sold at large discounts because no one will buy them at more normal prices. And there are other scenarios (such as OEM licenses) under which these might be legal. In that case, there is no problem for anyone.

If these are not legal, they may not come with a valid product key. In that case, they may not install properly, and the purchaser would have nothing of value. Or they might come with a valid, but non-unique key. In that case, they might install, but not provide product support if any is ever needed.

In either of these cases, the seller is probably committing copyright infringement, and could be sued should the copyright holder become aware of it. It is possible that the seller is even committing criminal copyright infringement, but even if that is so, prosecutions are rare. But the purchaser is not committing infringement. The purchaser did not make any copies, nor distribute any. Thus the purchaser could not be sued, much less charged with a crime.

Many large companies have agreements with software vendors not to use pirates software, and under these regularly check their networks for unauthorized copies of software. If an employee installs unauthorized software on a company machine such checks may find it, in which case it may be deleted and the employee may be in trouble with his or her boss. But that doesn't apply to a private individual installing software on a private computer not used for work.

  • What if the person bought it and installed it successfully on his own PC for personal use only? and he really uses it. He did not give it to someone else, did not share it, did not put it to the internet. Do not consider companies, the question only about personal use. Companies are much more difficult.
    – Zlelik
    Jan 17, 2021 at 23:01
  • 1
    @Zlelik its still an unlicensed copy.
    – user28517
    Jan 17, 2021 at 23:10
  • @Moo. Does it matter if the person knew about the fact, that it is the unlicensed copy? For example, if someone bought a stolen car and did not know that the car is stolen, he will not go to prison, he will only lose the money he paid for the car, unless it is proven, then he knew about the fact, that car is stolen. Or it does not work like this?
    – Zlelik
    Jan 17, 2021 at 23:14
  • 1
    @Zlelik seriously, if you have an opportunity for reasonable suspicion that something is fake, then in many cases that is just as bad as wilful infringement - a $2 license for something that costs $100, bought from an outlet rife with unlawful goods, yeah thats not going to raise any eyebrows at all. Theres very little room for the buyer being innocent here.
    – user28517
    Jan 17, 2021 at 23:17
  • @Moo. In this case there is no difference if he buys the license for $2 which cost $100 from the official seller and install the software or download a pirate version from crazy sites and install it for free. Is it true?
    – Zlelik
    Jan 17, 2021 at 23:30

The legal worst-case scenario is that he will be found liable for copyright infringement. This can mean compensation for actual damages which is the money the copyright owner lost from the infringement (sale cost), and could include infringer's profits, except that the copyright owner of mass-market software is usually not entitled to a share of the profits from using the product. It can also include the attorney's costs for the wining side.

However, it is not illegal to purchase a fake license, as long as you don't also copy (install) the software. Generally speaking, if you buy a bogus license, you are simply out of luck and you have a $2 paper brick (you lack the requisite parts for installation). What matters is whether you have installed it. Prison is possible, but not for the scenario that you describe.

  • What if the person bought it and installed on his own PC for personal use only? I mean legal worst-case scenario for the buyer.
    – Zlelik
    Jan 17, 2021 at 22:59
  • Should they prove, that he knew that license is fake? Or if it the license is fake, it does not matter if the buyer knew about it or not?
    – Zlelik
    Jan 17, 2021 at 23:06
  • I assumed that this was on his own computer, for personal use.
    – user6726
    Jan 17, 2021 at 23:15
  • Sorry, I still did not get what is the legal worst-case scenario for personal use and if the software was installed and used on his personal PC?
    – Zlelik
    Jan 17, 2021 at 23:31
  • Do I correctly understand that in worst-case scenario person will have to pay several thousand penalty, for the software itself, for lawyers, etc.
    – Zlelik
    Jan 18, 2021 at 8:19

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