Cellphones, computers, printers – all of these can now be bought second-hand. Reconditioned, reconditioned in new German, electronic devices, often still in very good condition, are given a second life. It’s sustainable on many levels: it saves the customer money because second-hand equipment is cheaper. And it protects the environment – on the one hand, because less e-waste is generated and fewer devices are produced, saving significant raw material resources.
But what about software? Shouldn’t it be second-hand to give devices a truly lasting life? Or is it not, with a less noble goal in mind, at least not in a position to cut costs? After all, unlike hardware, the program code does not wear out.
The used software market has been very controversial for many years, and major manufacturers doubted that it could even be legal. Only a judgment of the European Court of Justice in 2012 created legal certainty. The Luxembourg judges had decided at the time that used software could in principle be resold. Oracle was thus beaten by the company Usedsoft, which sold the used licenses of the American software giant. Oracle saw its copyright infringed, but the ECJ found that the exclusive distribution right for copies of the program was exhausted upon first sale. Software manufacturers should therefore not prevent the resale of their products. However, this does not apply to programs used in the subscription model or in the cloud. Only so-called lifetime licenses can be resold.
Usedsoft is still active in this market and, according to its own information, now has around 16,000 customers, including companies like Alete and Munich Airport. The activity, which is sold exclusively to corporate clients, is now focused on Microsoft and Adobe programs. The MRM company based in Unterschleissheim also relies on used software. “We buy 150,000 to 200,000 licenses per year”, explains its managing director Ernesto Schmutter. These are also mainly Adobe and Microsoft licenses. “We sell lifetime licenses that originate from the European Economic Area or Switzerland, which have been refunded and of which we all know the former owners.”
Desktop software can last 10 to 15 years
The business is also booming as used software saves 40-60% off the new price and manufacturers are forced to offer the same support for used licenses as for new products. This means that Microsoft must also provide security updates for the used version of Windows 10. And office software in particular, whose versions are similar or the latest functions are not always needed, can be used for ten years. at fifteen.
Now, manufacturers like Microsoft or Adobe are increasingly trying to win their customers over for subscription models, for example by merging products like Office into the Microsoft 365 cloud application. For manufacturers, these business models are more predictable. and associated with regular income – also because customers are more likely to purchase the next update. However, this does not always work for users: if the software is used for a long time, it may be cheaper to buy the license instead of renting it. According to Microsoft, however, subscription sales are increasing and one-time sales are decreasing.
For Ernesto Schmutter of MRM, these cloud applications are both a “curse and a blessing”. Because companies that outsource their software to the cloud now have inactive licenses that can be purchased. But if everyone went to the cloud and signed up for subscription models, of course, no one would buy used software anymore. However, Schmutter doesn’t think it will come to this: “Lifetime licenses are also a piece of digital sovereignty.” Many customers would still like to have control of the software in-house. And manufacturers also continue to offer traditional purchase licenses. Microsoft has already announced that Office 2022 will also be available in this form.
Many dubious offers for individuals
Usedsoft and MRM both sell exclusively to businesses. Anyone looking for used software as a private user will quickly come across a lot of questionable offers on the internet – in which mainly product keys, i.e. activation keys, but no certified license is sold. They often come from so-called volume licenses, that is to say from software for companies which are intended for many computers. Questionable resellers buy them in order to resell them to private users – for a price much lower than the original price.
The Lizengo company recently hit the headlines. They had offered very cheap Windows and Office versions in their online store, but also at Edeka at the checkout. The Cologne Public Prosecutor’s Office raided the company in August 2020. The allegation: The company sold product keys as licenses for Microsoft computer programs without the purchaser actually having a right of use. Microsoft had sued Lizengo. The American group announced: “A functional product key is not synonymous with a valid license. Activate. “In the meantime, we know that Lizengo clients have received mail from the prosecution.
Dirk Lynen has been selling used software with a Secondsoft company in Aachen for 25 years – mainly to small businesses, but also to private customers. “We sell the products that can also be bought in the media market.” However, the business has changed a lot in recent years, also because of the rental software. A bigger problem, however, are the many questionable offers that “erode your business and ruin the price.”
By his own statements, he is offered Office or Windows product keys for a dollar or two a week from questionable sources – if he buys a thousand pieces. “If only one or two people fall for the trap and open an online store, they’ll be the first to hit the market,” Lynen says angrily. This is why he has now specialized in CAD programs such as those offered by Autodesk, among others. “Here we can do the license renewal process directly through the company itself. Manufacturers like Autodesk have all the keys in the database, everything is traceable here.”