I've been comparing prices on Windows 11 Pro licenses from third-party OEM license resellers.

Microsoft sells it for $199.99.

Kinguin sells it for $32.62 (at the time of posting). I'm just using them as an example. There are other such sites.

Tom’s Hardware seems to be comfortable with Kinguin:

Now, let's address the elephant in the room. While we can't vouch for all of them, websites selling cheap Windows 10 or 11 keys are likely offering legitimate codes. Kinguin has more than three dozen merchants worldwide selling Windows keys. Mark Jordan, Kinguin’s VP of communications, told Tom's Hardware in 2019 that Kinguin's merchants acquire the codes from wholesalers who have surplus copies of Windows they don't need.

"It's not a gray market. It would be like buying Adidas or Puma or Nike from a discounter, from TJ Maxx," Jordan said. "There are no legal issues with buying it from us. It's just another marketplace."

I asked an IT consultant who I'd describe as "scrupulously honest" about the legitimacy of such resellers. He wrote:

Yes, the source is completely on the up and up to the best of my ability to discern. I have no desire to be sued or jailed for software piracy. I was referred to this particular source by another IT consultant who has no desire to jeopardize his business by dealing with shady sources.

Is purchasing from such resellers legitimate? How about for business use?

  • It sheds light on it but doesn't fully answer it. I think the excerpts from Microsoft's complaint quoted in the answer below really do.
    – Eliezer
    Jan 27 at 15:42

3 Answers 3


In a related post, there was an answer that referenced a 2018 Geekwire article Microsoft sues 'prolific distributor' of pirated Office and Windows software. Therein, Geekwire shared the civil case of Microsoft v. Gamble. Although I am not yet a lawyer, I found these two excerpts from Microsoft's complaint pertinent:

  1. Product activation keys are not a software license, nor do they constitute authorization from Microsoft to access or use software without the appropriate license. Product activation is merely technology used by Microsoft to protect its intellectual property from unauthorized use, counterfeiting, and other forms of abuse. Microsoft does not sell or otherwise provide product activation keys separately from licensed software, nor does it authorize others to do so.

  2. One prevalent facilitator of unauthorized software use is the unlawful distribution of Microsoft product activation keys that have been decoupled from the software they were authorized to activate. Distributors of these keys commonly instruct their customers, as in this case, to download the software from Microsoft and then use the decoupled keys to activate the software. In these instances, the customers downloading the software from Microsoft do not purchase the required software license, and Microsoft is not paid for the software being used. The global black market for decoupled product activation keys generates millions of dollars of illicit revenues for distributors.

I may certainly be jumping, but I think the most logical conclusion would be that is what's going on with these discounted licenses: they're illegally selling "product activation keys that have been decoupled from the software they were authorized to activate".

Just to confuse matters, however, my "scrupulously honest" IT consultant who I quoted in my original post, just wrote me:

[my source, another IT consultant and MSP] is better connected with vendors than I am. He says he spoke to a number of contacts at Microsoft, and their consensus was that if Microsoft's activation server permits the product to activate, then the software and the product key are legitimate.


It's not possible to determine in a specific case whether a particular vendor is operating legally, but it is in principle possible. MS itself sort of directs you to possible resellers. The pertinent question is whether the vendor does indeed have permission (arising from a contract with MS) to sell some form of license, however, pursuant to this description for Windows 10, it might require purchasing a copy then validating the key. An alternative would be to read the contract between the vendor and MS, and hire an attorney to evaluate the legality of what they are offering, but that isn't publicly-available information and it is kind of overkill. Indeed, there may be no contract between the vendor and MS, if the vendor bought up extra copies from someone else (the question does arise whether the license is transferable, which we can't answer without seeing the contract with MS).

  • I don't believe this is accurate for OEM licenses. Those are tied to the hardware they are sold with.
    – Greg Askew
    Jan 26 at 20:51
  • Are you disagreeing with my statement that it's not possible to determine?
    – user6726
    Jan 26 at 21:41
  • I am disagreeing. It is possible to determine that selling "OEM" licenses sans hardware is, in fact, illegal and against the license. The fact that it cost 20% of the normal cost should be a giveaway that the fly-by-night no-fixed-address reseller is not legitimate.
    – Greg Askew
    Jan 26 at 23:25

if Microsoft's activation server permits the product to activate, then the software and the product key are legitimate.

Totally not true. There are PLENTY of examples of OS installations done with these gray or outright stolen keys that are later blacklisted which causes them to lose their activation status. Clearly these days "IT" doesn't necessarily mean knowledgeable. Might be better to ask the people who more frequently deal directly with these kinds of questions, like the veteran members and moderators at Tom's hardware, and stop paying attention to what the "reporters" in editorial try to feed you.

Deactivation is a thing and on the forums we've seen it happen a fair number of times after a system was running in activated status for while, sometimes even a long while. Organized criminals often steal products in bulk from trains or trucks, sell those off, then people use them but later Microsoft blacklists those products based on known numerical identification and poof, your product that was seemingly legitimate is now no longer activated and you can call MS all you want, you won't get any help.

There is only ONE way to legitimately purchase a Windows license and that is through an authorized Microsoft Windows retailer, and NONE of those are going to offer you any kind of drastic discount on Windows. Consider, a Windows license is about the only thing that hasn't changed in price in the last 15 years or more. It was around 100 bucks then and is around 100 bucks now. Name one other thing that costs the same as it did 10-15 years ago. So, if you need a license, just buy it through an authorized retail channel and eliminate ANY question of it being legitimate or not.

In fact, I have direct communication from multiple administrative contacts at Microsoft who've plainly and without reservation stated that all these gray key sites are illegitimate. And I can provide that information to anybody who is doubtful about it's legitimacy.

Also, the comment about determining what retailers are legit or not, this.

Anyone selling legitimate Microsoft Software will be charging the same price as Microsoft charges, so there is no advantage to buying it from anyone but Microsoft HOWEVER, if you really feel the need to do so then simply buy from a major retailer like Amazon, Newegg, Best Buy, etc. and make sure that THEY are the "sold by and shipped buy" listed, not some third party. Those companies would never risk their business identities by selling licenses they weren't absolutely certain about. Third party seller on those sites, totally different story. Could go either way.

  • I would be very interested if you could please share that information from your Microsoft contacts.
    – Eliezer
    Jan 26 at 23:16

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