I have a friend that keeps a collection of burned Windows CD's; 2000, XP, Vista which he uses to repair peoples computers with. Now he justifies this by saying he uses the CD-Key on their OEM sticker that came with their PC. As long as the installation validates the installation should be 100% legal. Is this true? I've always been under the impression you had to use the original CD/DVD that came with the computer.

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    Apart from this being legal or not: I think it can really get the owner into technical trouble if a somewhat different installation disc is used, even when the key is accepted. Some time later, when the cd is needed (like when installing some new hardware or whatever) Windows might reject the original disc because it does not exactly match the installed version, and prompt for the cd that was used during repair? – Arjan Dec 26 '09 at 8:47
  • @Luminose, Arjan van Bentem has a very good point. is this possible? – studiohack Mar 29 '10 at 4:31
  • You shouldn't need the CD ever once Windows is installed unless you need to do a repair of the OS. If I remember correctly Windows copies all CAB files to the HDD during installtion, negating the need for the CD. – Juice Apr 5 '10 at 21:35

It's the key that's the important thing, as long as each machine uses it's original key then you're legal. You can use the OEM key if it's available, or the key that came with the disc if they had installed a retail version of Windows. In the latter case you don't need to use the original disc as the burned installer is treated the same as the pressed disc.

NOTE: I'm not saying that you can reuse keys from other installations, as that would clearly be piracy. If you have a valid key then at some point in the past you (or the OEM) had an installation disk.

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    [Citation needed]. I challenge you to provide some reference that Microsoft actually allows this. – Teddy Dec 20 '09 at 20:52
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    @Teddy - if you're installing Windows on a network you have a volume license (which I admit is not exactly this situation) but you don't have to have separate and original media for each installation. – ChrisF Dec 20 '09 at 21:20
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    The thing that gives you the power to make a copy FOR YOUR OWN USE under U.S. law is Fair Use en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use . Additionally the media only provides the means for install, not the actual permission. The licence key is what allows you to actually install and use the system so while Microsoft would prefer you not go throwing copies of the cd around they can't stop you so they restrict use of the operating system by licence key, not install media. I have installed many, many copies of Windows from the same media but always used a different licence key which is legal. – Mokubai Dec 20 '09 at 21:34
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    @ChrisF and nhinkle, good points. MSDN and Dreamspark both allow you to burn an ISO, msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/aa948864.aspx, dreamspark.com/FAQ/Students.aspx but I still doubt that they allow you to utilize that copy for other MSDN subscribers or students. A hair splitting distinction perhaps, but that's what the OP was asking about. – hyperslug Dec 21 '09 at 4:30
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    @Luminose, let's pretend the answer is yes for MSDN. The next question is, "Does this give us enough room to rationalize extending that practice towards the OEM and retail licenses?" And we already know what those licenses say. (No) – hyperslug Dec 22 '09 at 4:13

Your friend is incorrect.

The licensing terms for Windows Vista seem to suggest that the single allowed backup copy is permitted for use only for reinstallation which would forbid fresh installs:

BACKUP COPY. You may make one backup copy of the media. You may use it only to reinstall the software.

Arguably, this could be interpreted as leaving room to reinstall on other machines. This interpretation of Microsoft's intent is doubtful, based on their wording regarding Windows 7. The language at the Microsoft Store explicitly states that the Windows 7 media is to be used for the licensed computer only:

The license terms for Windows 7, once accepted, permit you to make one copy of the software as a back-up copy for reinstallation on the licensed computer.

Use of the definite article suggests it is illegal to use it on just any computer (ie., "the computer" vs "a computer").


Summary: It's most certainly illegal; the serial number alone is not enough.

A burned CD is an illegally made copy of an original CD. Any copying of the data on an original CD is illegal unless allowed by the copyright holder, i.e. Microsoft. An installation of the original CD to a computer is only legal because Microsoft have given their permission in this specific case. I would assume that Microsoft have not gone out of their way to explicitly allow use of illegally made CD copies to install onto a PC.

Therefore, most likely illegal.

(I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.)

(To those downvoting this answer without commenting: You are most likely deluding yourself because you don't want this to be true. This does not, in fact, change the reality of it. Nor does the fact that Microsoft may not be cracking down on this practice - go on, contact them and ask them for blanket permission to do this, and see what they say.)

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    @Luminose: If I break the traffic laws while driving but do not endanger anyone, it is still illegal even though my end destination would be the same in either case. It's how you do it that matters, not (in this case) what you end up with. – Teddy Dec 20 '09 at 1:56
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    i recently had a chat with someone at the SU staff and suggested to add 'legal matters' to the "vote to close" criteria. a: legislation is different from country to country, b: SU is dedicated to technical support. however, this request was not greeted with much enthusiasm, so i'm afraid you will have to live with the downvotes, although they are pretty nonsensical and by no means justified. personally, i resort to comments if i want to contribute to any such discussion. oh ... and +1, them downvoters can't have it their way! :) – Molly7244 Dec 20 '09 at 2:14
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    +1 b/c knowing Microsoft, I suspect this is true. Downvoters, please contribute: if you have a link showing that Microsoft sanctions the behavior in question, it would relevant to the discussion, right? – hyperslug Dec 20 '09 at 6:38
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    Here in Italy I CAN burn a backup copy of any CD, being a music cd or an OS installation disc. But I have to use only one copy, so I could burn a copy of WinXP, keep the original disc in a proper place, and use the copy to install/reinstall/boot my licensed OS. As long as I have a license I'm free to keep my back safe. – dag729 Dec 26 '09 at 2:41
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    @dag729, you can burn a copy of any cd YOU OWN, not just any cd you get your hands on, I guess? – Arjan Dec 26 '09 at 8:50

If this is 2000 or XP- he may be lying, a bog standard retail OEM key works only with OEM keys and a Dell, HP or other manufacturers key only works (*) with the correct CD from that manufacturer.

  • Vista, 2008 and 7 do not even need keys if you have the correct CDs

However, I have a collection of original CDs from Dell and other manufacturers that I see on a daily basis and I use the correct edition when I see the correct licence if/when I need to do a restore.

Is it illegal - I don't think so - IANAL, but I really do not see the problem on original media if you only install on legally licensed machines - at the end of the day, if you lose the media, you pay £xx and will just get the same cd in the post.

... As for burned media, just be careful - if you do not know where it came from, you could be walking in to a lot of other problems later on.

  • I haven't tried it lately but I have used a Dell OEM key on a retial XP Pro installation and it activated without an issues. That was about 2 years ago. – Juice Dec 19 '09 at 14:35
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    I installed a retail XP Pro installation on my former Dell laptop that also had an OEM XP Pro. The key does not work, it only worked with the Dell-supplied OEM disc. – Will Eddins Dec 20 '09 at 21:49

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