DMCA conviction for seller of bogus Microsoft product keys

A man in his early 20s is likely headed to jail under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act after he circumvents security measures to sell unlicensed Microsoft software.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read

Federal authorities accused Adonis Gladney of selling counterfeit Microsoft product keys, and on Thursday he was convicted of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Gladney, 24, is believed to be the first person convicted for DMCA violations dealing with the circumvention of security protections on software, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Missakian. Typically, product keys are used to activate software and are printed on Certificate of Authenticity labels that accompany legitimate products.

Missakian, who prosecuted the case in Los Angeles along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Wu, said the conviction is a sign that administrators at the U.S. Justice Department plan to take these kinds of DMCA violations "more seriously."

"The defendant couldn't have executed his scheme without counterfeit access keys," Missakian said. "(The keys) allowed purchasers to load software on multiple computers."

Among those who unwittingly purchased phony keys from Gladney is the United States Marine Corp. Gladney's attorney, Frank Sanes Jr., declined to comment.

Convicted of one count of violating the DMCA and three counts of mail fraud, Gladney could face several years in prison, Missakian said, adding that Gladney's prison term will likely be based on the amount of monetary damage he caused.

"At this point we're still counting," Missakian said.

Gladney, who resides in Los Angeles, would advertise software licenses in large volume on his Web sites, abovegroundsolutions.com or agsolutionsspc.com. Customers paid their money and received licenses, which prosecutors say Gladney claimed legally covered between 25 and 750 users. Gladney would then ship them a CD loaded with software that authorities say was not designated as a retail product for sale to the general public, such as software that typically comes bundled in PCs.

"The licenses were essentially thin air," Missakian said.

The FBI, which spearheaded the investigation on behalf of the Electronic Crimes Task Force, a group that includes several law enforcement agencies, said that Gladney would obtain key codes and then tweak them so he could use them over and over.

"By repeatedly using and distributing the same key codes on multiple products," an FBI agent wrote in court documents, "Gladney is circumventing one of Microsoft's primary security features for legitimate product activation in violation of (trafficking in unauthorized access devices)."

According to the FBI, Gladney managed to turn his illegal enterprise into a cash cow while he was barely 20. Gladney told agents he had earned more than $3 million. Following his arrest, officials seized $74,038 and two custom-built Lamborghinis.