I’m no pirate, so why is Microsoft treating me like one?

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Josh Weaver’s activation code for his Microsoft product no longer works. Why can’t he get it reactivated?

Question: I am writing about an issue with customer service and what I believe to be breach of software agreements. In 2011, I bought a copy of Microsoft Office from a legitimate retailer. I had some problems with installation and contacted Microsoft about it.
Instead of resolving my issue, the Microsoft tech in early 2012 decided to just give me a new license key for MS Office Professional 2010. Because of this, I did not pursue a resolution of the issue from the retailer as I was given a different product key and thought Microsoft would allow me to continue to use it.

I installed this on my computer. Some time later, I reinstalled it on the same computer after I had to reinstall Windows. More recently, I was removing all my old files from this computer to transfer to a new one. I uninstalled from the old computer and attempted to download onto my new computer. When I did this, I received a message that the product key was no longer allowed to be used.

This began a two-hour-long saga that resulted in a Microsoft employee hanging up on me.

I contacted technical support and was told a number of different things about how many times it was downloaded. Some people said 2, some said 12, others said it had been downloaded 31 times and installed onto 18 devices. I was also told that the product key lock had been overridden three times.

I was told the only way for someone to have access to this was if I gave it away or it was stolen from me and that in no case could it be that Microsoft could have been the victim of the target.

I was told I would have to pay $99 to issue a new product key.

The conversation ended with a technician talking and refusing to allow me to speak. He at first said there was no way for him to reset the block on the key. He then said if I can prove that it was stolen from Microsoft, he would reset it, and immediately resorted to taunting me, saying I could not get access to Microsoft’s system to prove such.

This continued as he said he would not at any time allow me to speak, and as I became angry with this and asked to speak to a supervisor, he said that my anger at that moment was unprofessional and that as a result he would terminate the call without allowing me to speak to a supervisor.

I feel that I have upheld my end of the bargain by only installing the software on one computer. Now Microsoft needs to uphold its end of the bargain by allowing me to use their product. I can not be responsible for the conflicting number of reported downloads and installations as it can not be proven that such supposed unauthorized use is a result of my negligent management of the product code.

I also think it is implausible that someone would be trying to pirate an old version of MS Office software, such as the 2010 version.

I feel that Microsoft is acting in bad faith to not believe me in my statement that two of these downloads and installs were for installation on a single device, that I never installed it on multiple devices, and that I never allowed such to be done. Can you help me get permission to download and install a copy of MS Office 2010 Professional? — Josh Weaver, Sterling, Va.

Answer: Microsoft should have reissued the license for your Office 2010 Professional product. After you explained what happened, the company should have been able to trace the code back to the resolution and determine that you had only used the license on one computer.

What are we even arguing about? Microsoft is shifting to a “rent-not-buy” model that allows you to pay an annual fee for services like Microsoft Word and Excel. I can’t believe they’d stick it to you for a copy of Office 2010 Professional. It seems almost petty.

If you are a pirate, you’re not a good one. I mean, would a career criminal really call Microsoft tech support repeatedly, giving them detailed license information and case numbers? No, it’s probably a whole lot easier to find a license key online and just copy it. You were obviously trying to do the right thing.

Calling Microsoft probably wasn’t the best idea. I might have kept my correspondence in writing, if possible. Here are Microsoft’s contact options.

The behavior of the call center representative is completely uncalled for. I hope Microsoft takes a little time to review the recording — you know, for “quality assurance purposes.”
I contacted Microsoft on your behalf. It reissued a license for your copy of Office 2010 Professional. Consider an upgrade to Office 365, and you won’t have to worry about this anymore.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • AJPeabody

    Two words: LibreOffice. OpenOffice.com

    Both are free, Microsoft Office compatible, and don’t want to suck your wallet dry.

  • Jeff W.

    LibreOffice and OpenOffice are fine alternatives, but don’t do everything. If he has the Pro version of Office, then it is likely there are some items he is using that are not part of those packages. Maybe it is Access, or Outlook/Exchange, or some integration with Sharepoint? I have Libre on my home PC and Office on my work. Libre works well, but there are some limitations. I have noticed it especially on Powerpoints.

    MS treated him poorly. But the suggestion to move to Office 365 is not the right one. Since he is still using MS2010, he paid for it in 2011 and is still getting his money’s worth. If he were to go to 365, he would pay every a fee every month. Not much, of course, but still a charge. Over 5 years, he would certainly pay more for 365 than the what he paid for when using 2010 over the same time span.

    And the always updating model of Office 365 and Windows 10 can leave consumers in a bind when an update breaks something. I have seen several e-mails from our corporate IT recently that MS Patch xxx breaks functionality yyy and a recommendation to undo the patch or a multistep workaround.

  • RichardII

    This kind of abusive behavior on the part of agents for large corporations occurs all to often. In some cases corporate policies, like minimizing average call length and number of management referrals, are to blame. But, it seems to me the majority are simply caused by people who abuse their job role and turn their work assignment to serve into an exercise in power.

    However, in the end, the blame has to fall on the corporation. They are ultimately responsible for the behavior of their agents (contracted and direct) and need to take the steps (and expense) to assure they do their jobs. Sadly, the bean counters usually win over the customer service advocates.

  • deemery

    “Consider an upgrade to Office365” – OK if you don’t mind Microsoft monitoring whatever you’re doing on their cloud!

  • MarkKelling

    So the solution to fix a licensing issue with a product that was paid for is to pay for a different product from the same company?

    That might be the easiest route, but will still leave you with something you paid for but cannot use. And the other product is a monthly subscription so you will never completely pay for it and it stops working too as soon as you stop paying.

    While subscription based software might be great for corporations or independent business people running their own companies who need constant support, it is not the best option for a personal user. Many people out there have paid hundreds of dollars for various software products and those products do everything they will ever need in their personal life. So what if it is the 2010 version? Or even the 2004 version? It still works, it is paid for, and, until the user upgrades to a computer that no longer supports it, there is no need to go out and spend more again to buy basically the same product.

    Glad someone was able to finally help in this situation.

  • MarkKelling

    If you think Microsoft is not monitoring everything every Windows user is doing anyway, think again. Unless your computer has never been connected to the web, they know.

  • Mel LeCompte Jr.

    I have had fairly poor results with those two. GoogleDocs is a better option for the freebie route.

    Quite unfortunately, MS Office is the best out there. I own a Mac, and have tried every option I just mentioned, in addition to Apple’s Pages. Nothing truly beats MS Office (and yes, I had to force myself to type that).

  • just me

    Microsoft is out of control with the way they tried to protect themselves from piracy. They failed to understand that the higher the price the more piracy it invites. On the other hand – copyright and patent laws were never intended for the purpose that MS wants to achieve – i.e. obligatory oligopoly at unreasonable prices.
    Of course the only way is to pay for the new key for your Office 2010 and than sue them in small claims court for the damages equal to the price you just paid them and court costs.
    On yet another hand – if one eliminated all the individual piracy the result is not expected to yield more sale revenue. Most individual pirates would never pay the price for the software. Microsoft and others know it and this is why they do not fight individual piracy too much. To the contrary they like it – it gives them more “testers”, more mouth-to-ear advertisers. The only piracy they fear and fight is institutional users. This is why MS decided to upgrade everyone including individual pirated copies to Windows 10, but will not upgrade pirated copies of enterprise versions of Windows.

  • One word: Apple. Its word processor comes with a new system.

    Buying a Windows PC because it’s cheap is like flying Spirit or Frontier because you might save.

  • Bill___A

    If your software key doesn’t work for any reason, you are directed to telephone activate. The advice given to purchase a subscription is the best advice. That way you can keep current.

  • deemery

    Mebbe, I wouldn’t know. When I was working, I had to have MS Office on my Mac. Office 365 is available for the Mac, and I won’t touch it.

  • deemery

    Well, I’ve owned a Mac for 30 years. They’ve been markedly better than Windows machines (which I’ve had to use on occasion at work), but I certainly can’t say that I’ve “never” had any problems.

  • MarkKelling

    That was a joke. :-)

  • KennyG

    Just an alternative theory, instead of MS being the big bad wolf. Possibly what was originally purchased from that legitimate retailer may have been an OEM version of the product. Many legit retailers [Amazon for example as well as many bricks and mortar stores] sell both full retail as well as OEM versions. The OEM versions are significantly less expensive that full retail, but the caveat with OEM is that technically it is allowed to be installed on a single computer, and can not be moved to a different machine since the activation key basically becomes attached to that initial installation PC’s hardware “serial number”. A full retail version can be moved from PC to PC [although only licensed to 1 machine at a time]. WHen he went to Microsoft the first time, the replacement key he was given may have been another OEM key. If this was the case, then MS was correct in not allowing him to reinstall MS Office on his new PC. Not saying this is what happened, there is not enough information presented, but I have seen this with many of my friends over the years that thought they were somehow getting a “deal”.

  • KarlaKatz

    I must admit, the “leased” Office 365 is wonderful. I don’t have to do a thing, worry about storing a CD, “key” code, etc…. In other words: Moo… Baaaaaaa… Baaaaa.

  • MarieTD

    Not everyone needs to “keep current.” I’m still running MS Office 2007. Old age and a limited income, along with less need for the program, mean I won’t be going to a subscription in my lifetime. Before retirement, maybe. Now? Not so much.

  • jim6555

    Alan, I think that your comparison of a computer using the Windows operating System to flying Spirit or Frontier is not valid. Many purchasers find that their new computer is bundled with Microsoft Word and Excel. If not, they can purchase the software for about $100 which still leaves their total outlay much less than if they had purchased an overpriced Apple product. Unlike Spirit and Frontier that provide close together seating, bad customer service and so many add-on charges that a flight can cost more than a comparable flight on Southwest or Delta would cost, PC computers work well and don’t leave their users feeling uncomfortable and short-changed.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Moo? Baa? Ha! :-)