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Preinstalled copies of Windows on computers usually have a different serial number than the one that comes with the recovery media. As such, does that mean that I now have two licenses to Windows, or one? Are there any restrictions on what I can do with the second license?

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First of all, don't mistake a serial number from a license key. The license key is used for activation, at which point a serial number that identified that activation is issued or created.

That said, there are likely two product keys involved. The number on the computer is the result of a Volume License Key used by the computer manufacturer to install the software. The key point here is that this VLK license belongs to the OEM, and not to you.

Remember that licenses pertain to copyright, which controls how a work can be copied. The VLK license used by the OEM covers the copy they make when they install the software. The key on your laptop allows you to do the same thing and install the software again, if you need to.

They key on your laptop also covers actually running the software. You need a license just to run installed software because of an old court ruling from back before most people, including courtroom judges, really had any idea how computers work. The ruling says that running software creates a copy of that software in cpu and RAM as it executes. Since copyright law changed to make software covered by copyright by default, you must have a license to legally run software. Personally I think that's like saying I make a copy of a book in my brain as I read it — while there might be some truth to that, it's completely beyond the scope of copyright. Nevertheless, the ruling still stands.

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The licence installed by the OEM OS disc is called a Volume Licence Key (VLK), these are used by OEM's to make it easy to install legitimate product on millions of PC's, the COA sticker key is the unique single user license that has to be distributed with the PC as per their agreement with Microsoft. Record the COA key somewhere safe as the stickers tend to get unreadable over time.

No, legally you only have one key. If you lose your OEM install disc, you can use a non OEM disk to install the OS and then use the key on the COA sticker to install and activate.

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...except that those keys don't always work when you try this. – Shinrai May 6 '11 at 19:09
@ Shinrai, explain "don't work" – Moab May 7 '11 at 15:08

I believe the recovery CD checks for info in the bios to verify it's being run on the correct computer. If it isn't, the recovery can't be used. So while you might technically have 2, they both can only work on one PC and no other.

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