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Circumventing Software license keys can lead to legal trouble

Posted by Steve Vondran | Oct 27, 2019

Software Audit Licensing - DMCA anti-circumvention

DMCA copyright software lawyer



Most software companies use some type of digital rights management (DRM) to protect their software copyrights.  One of the ways this is done is by creating "product keys" or "license key."  The key is not the software, it is the right to access and use the software.  In other words, when you buy a piece of software online (ex. I just purchased a photo pricing and licensing software), it will often come with an serial number and/or activation number that is needed to punch into the software to activate the product through the software developer ("phone home").  This is how companies can protect their software.  Circumventing this by creating illegal our counterfeit keys using keygens, can lead to software audits, copyright infringement lawsuits, and DMCA violations.  Each of these can be costly and could even lead to jail time.

What is a software license key?

The software key is like a token that verifies legitimate use and prevents unauthorized use.  It certifies that the copy of a program is legitimate and unlocks the software program.  In some cases this is a randomly generated number (ex. using a "license generator" to create a series of symbols and number) - FH-1123-QP99-0005 that unlocks the program use use.

However, license keys can also come in the form of a USB device or Hardware "dongle" (that needs to be plugged into a YSB port, for example, to unlock and/or to use the software).  Counterfeit keys are out there and these can lead to software piracy problems.

What is a keygen?

A "keygen" (key generator) is a program that creates counterfeit software license keys.  These products should be avoided as they may contain malware, trojans, viruses and can wind up injecting your company into a software audit with companies like the business software alliance located in Washington, D.C.  They have a team of regional IP lawyers who conduct audits of companies suspected of using unlicensed software or using or installing software outside the terms of the EULA (End User License Agreement).

DMCA section 1202 anti-circumvention 

Trying to "circumvent" access control technology violates the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and can have serious legal consequences.  For example, say a disgruntled employee decides he is about to get fired and he files a piracy or counterfeiting report with Microsoft over the use of illegal software. This can trigger an investigation, or might even be referred to the F.B.I.  Both counterfeiting and DMCA 1202 claims may be pursued, each carrying stiff fines, fees, penalties and damages.  

The DMCA section 1202 can be summarized (by Wikipedia):

"The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a 1998 United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM). It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet."

Contact a software technology attorney 

We are one of the most experienced IP law firms in the country representing clients in software audits and licensing investigations.  We can help with claims of willful copyright infringement and counterfeit defense.  Moreover, we have substantial experience working with software companies and their counsel resolving EULA audits including working with companies such as Microsoft, Adobe, CNC, Vero, Siemens, SIIA, BSA, software compliance group, Autodesk, Altium and others.  We have appeared in over 150 federal court cases. We can also help rights owners enforce their software copyrights.  Call us at (877) 276-5084 to discuss or email us through our contact form.  


About the Author

Steve Vondran

Thank you for viewing our blogs, videos and podcasts. As noted, all information on this website is Attorney Advertising. Decisions to hire an attorney should never be based on advertising alone. Any past results discussed herein do not guarantee or predict any future results. All blogs are written by Steve Vondran, Esq. unless otherwise indicated. Our firm handles a wide variety of intellectual property and entertainment law cases from music and video law, Youtube disputes, DMCA litigation, copyright infringement cases involving software licensing disputes (ex. BSA, SIIA, Siemens, Autodesk, Vero, CNC, VB Conversion and others), torrent internet file-sharing (Strike 3 and Malibu Media), California right of publicity, TV Signal Piracy, and many other types of IP, piracy, technology, and social media disputes. Call us at (877) 276-5084. AZ Bar Lic. #025911 CA. Bar Lic. #232337

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