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What is Software Counterfeiting?

By A. Rohlandt
Updated May 16, 2024
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The term software counterfeiting refers to the distribution of illegal copies of software made to appear as if they were originals. Counterfeit software may be similar to the legitimate copy, but sometimes there are observable differences in the discs or packaging. If someone purchases counterfeit software, he or she may encounter difficulties updating the software or find that it has limited functionality.

Software counterfeiting can result in copies that fully resemble the original, however, there are a few signs to look for. Counterfeiters frequently use a transparent overlay on their discs to create the impression of an embedded image, when, in fact, the overlay has been printed or labeled. If the graphics on the disc can be scratched off, or if a transparent layer is present, then the disc is probably counterfeit.

Checking the packaging is also recommended, since software counterfeiting can lead to discrepancies in color or design. Some counterfeiters photocopy the software manuals, so a copied manual or pamphlet is another telltale sign of software counterfeiting. In some cases, the serial key may be invalid or missing altogether.

When working with Microsoft products, the user may receive warning messages to alert him or her to counterfeit software. Software counterfeiters have also been known to purchase product activation keys, but these will only work until Microsoft notices the installation. This has left users with software that only functions for a limited time.

It is best to purchase directly from the manufacturer's web site in order to ensure the quality of a product. Online auction sites or online classifieds are a convenient way to purchase software, but counterfeiters have been known to use these sites to sell their illegal software. Some auction sites will not take action when informed of someone selling counterfeit software, but the manufacturers often do.

If there is reason to believe that someone has fallen victim to software counterfeiting, he or she should be encouraged to request a refund. In addition, he or she should forward the copied software, along with any relevant information, to the software manufacturer. Microsoft has been known to replace counterfeit software, so a victim of software counterfeiting may be able to obtain a licensed copy to replace the copied software.

When in doubt, it is wise to do research on the product in question. Microsoft has made this easy with its "How to tell" web site. This site is a valuable resource when trying to detect software counterfeiting. It lists various signs to look for and contains images of well-known counterfeit copies to help educate users.

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Discussion Comments

By Melonlity — On Feb 04, 2014

In addition to purchasing software direct from the manufacturer's site, it's also safe to buy from a reputable retailer. The counterfeiters show up in droves at online auction sites and online classifieds.

Still, it is safe to get software from online auction sites so long as you're dealing with a seller with a good reputation (all online sites worth their salt have a way for users to rate their experiences with sellers).

If you get a piece of counterfeit software, you're usually stuck with it. So be careful.

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