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Just because you're donating a PC doesn't mean you can donate the software

It is often common practice among PC enthusiasts to donate PCs and notebooks to underprivileged children, charities, etc. Sometimes it is done as an outlet for older equipment, and other times simply as a generous way to give back to the community.

While the act of donating a computer is noble, the act of pre-loading Windows without a valid license is not. Regardless of if you are charging for the PC, or simply giving it away to charity, the unauthorized distribution of unlicensed copies of software is still illegal.

It is easy to suggest that neither Microsoft or any other software provider is likely to bring legal action down on anyone who is donating PCs to those in need. Such an assertion is quite likely correct, however it misses the point: violating the terms of a software's license agreement by illegally distributing the software on your donated machines is still considered "piracy" by the software makers. While such a designation is ethically suspect, it nonetheless gives copyright holders an excuse to implement more stringent and freedom-stomping forms of DRM in future versions of their product.

As previously implied, this issue most commonly occurs when a person donates a PC that they have preloaded with an unauthorized copy of Windows. It is fairly common for a person to load the same unlicensed copy of Windows on dozens of machines, all of which they intend to donate to various causes. While the person may believe they are doing a good thing, what they are really doing is causing the beneficiaries of their gifts to break copyright law.

A much more appropriate, and legal act would be to pre-load a copy of GNU/Linux onto the machines in question prior to donating them. This achieves two goals: it both legalizes the system in question, and it also provides an excellent opportunity to spread the ideals of free software to a new group of people who would likely otherwise not have been exposed. Should you choose this path, be sure to fully comply with the terms of the GNU General Public License, and provide a copy of the relevant source code.

Another option, of course is to purchase a legal copy of Microsoft Windows for each machine you wish to donate. While this is strongly discouraged, it is a superior option than making unauthorized copies. Despite the fact that all current versions of Windows utilize Product Activation (and are therefore on our "Products to Boycott" list), we feel that the small monetary support gained by Microsoft by your purchase is insignificant compared to the damage done by providing unlicensed software.

It is important for all people who are against oppressive technologies such as Product Activation and DRM remember that software companies will have a much harder job selling the public on the idea of such restrictions if "piracy" was less prevalant. Therefore any license violation, even those done in the spirit of charity, hurts the us all in the big picture.

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