Microsoft sues Florida reseller it alleges sold 'black market access devices' allowing unlocking of Office 365

Copyright and trademark infringements alleged by Redmond's legal eagles


Microsoft has flung numerous accusations at a reseller based in Florida in the US ranging from copyright infringement to the use of some decidedly iffy licence codes.

Miami-based Office Solutions USA was on the receiving end of the Windows giant's complaint [PDF], filed 2 November in a United States federal district court in southern Florida.

The complaint claims a litany of sins against Nadella's crew including: "1) contributory copyright infringement; 2) trademark infringement; 3) false designation of origin and false and misleading representations and descriptions of fact; and 4) trade dress infringement."

Microsoft alleged that Office Solutions USA and owner Henrique Coutinho Trad (aka Henrique Trad Souza) are "prolific distributors of black market access devices to Microsoft software that they unlawfully advertise to consumers as genuine software."

The cloud 'n' software giant added: "This software is either from counterfeit download sites or Microsoft sites that require the purchase of licensed software."

Microsoft may be all about open source, sharing and caring nowadays, but anyone passing off iffy licences as legit codes for cash cows, as it alleges Office Solutions USA has done, will be met with an unleashing of the lawyers. After all, if one doesn't want to pay for the company's operating systems or productivity applications, the likes of LibreOffice or any number of Linux vendors will be more than happy to offer up an alternative.

In what may turn out to be an unfortunate turn of phrase, Office Solutions USA makes the following claim on its website: "We take very seriously any form of misrepresentation or deception; have zero tolerance for any degree of falsity."

Microsoft, on the other hand, alleged the "Defendants deceive their customers into believing that this software is legally licensed for them to use, when it is not."

Use of the imagery and trademarks aside, Microsoft's complaint additionally alleged that activation keys had been "uncoupled" from genuine software and sold on a standalone basis. Microsoft also included in its complaint that Office Solutions USA had also sold "tokens for software pre-installed on Original Equipment Manufacturer ('OEM') devices and only authorized for use by specific OEMs for devices in China."

"Decoupled product keys, OEM tokens, and unauthorized credentials do not constitute or represent licenses for Microsoft software," states the complaint. "They are merely technology tools that Microsoft provides customers and its supply chain partners to access, install and activate copies of legally licensed software.

"When these tools are uncoupled from legally licensed software, disassociated with the devices on which they were authorized to be used, or created without authorization, the tools do not have any independent value other than to deceive unwitting consumers into acquiring copies of pirated and unlicensed software.

"That is the case here."

Between 1 November 2019 through to 10 September 2020, Microsoft said it bought at least eight "test purchases" of Office Solutions USA's unauthorised access devices.

According to the court documents, the sub-brands affected included Office 2019 Home and Student, Office 365, Microsoft Project 2019, Microsoft Visio 2019, and Windows 10.

The Microsoft of old went after software pirates with gusto but the company appears to have been less strident of late in its proclamations. It has also been keen to move customers off those pesky lifetime licences in favour of something involving a subscription.

While it is possible to pick up OEM licence keys on at least one online auction platform, care must be taken in checking where that activation code has come from and what it can legally be used for. In the complaint, Microsoft alleged that orders for Project Professional 2019 were fulfilled using an MSDN token while a copy of Windows 10 Pro was dealt with via a decoupled product key authorised for educational users and not redistribution.

Clearly, therefore, some of the old steel remains if the complaint is anything to go by. As well as putting a stop to sales and "impounding all unlawfully obtained product-activation keys", Microsoft is also seeking damages "for the substantial harm" it alleged were caused by Office Solutions USA.

The Register contacted Office Solutions USA – whose website at the time of writing features a Microsoft Solution Provider and Authorised Reseller badge – for comment but we have yet to receive a reply. ®

Updated at 13:41 UTC to add:

Microsoft got in touch to say: "While we don’t like to bring lawsuits, in this instance we needed to bring suit to stop distribution of unauthorized Microsoft software and product keys to unsuspecting victims."

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