I have been in negotiations with a client over the past few days about a large job he needs me to perform. It requires the use of an expensive piece of software. When I asked about the licensing, he said he'd supply me with a license.

Today I received an email from him with the licensing info, only to find it is very obviously cracked. He supplied the cracker tool and instructions to use it and everything. I was expecting him to supply a legitimate licence.

I am unsure what to do moving forward. It's a big job and I don't know if this is normal, especially for a small company who needs expensive tools. Should I just be quiet and use the software, or should I turn down the big job? And if I do, should I report him somewhere?

  • Obviously you can't have any part of doing something illegal, and DMCA is very dangerous to play around with. Have you tried searching with terms like "Alternatives to ..." ?
    – SDsolar
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 20:10

11 Answers 11


Client wants me to steal secret plans from the CEO of his competing company.

He sent an email today detailing where I can find the plans, how to break into his offices, and a schedule for when the break in would be best.

Do you think you are blameless if you break in and steal the plans?
If the police arrest you for breaking into the office, do you think you'll get off and the client would be charged?

Just because you can steal while remaining seated at your desk, doesn't make the theft not theft.

Seriously.... a client is asking you to break a law which only makes you liable if you are caught. If you do not want to perform illegal tasks, refuse the work.

Realize if you are caught for piracy, it is you that will pay any fines or serve any jail time, not the client. After all the software is on your devices, not the client's.

Ultimately, any client with this mindset is not a good client. If they steal from others, they will steal from you.

Drop the client, refuse the work, and don't take on any additional work from this client. It's merely a matter of time before they rip you off as well.

If the work requires the use of the software, and you do not already own a license for the software and/or the client is unable/unwilling to provide you with a license, you can't legally use the software - therefore you can't do the work being requested (unless you want to break the law).

In most cases, a freelancer should already own the software necessary to complete their projects. However, on rare occasions work may require specialty software for a single client. It is not unheard of for the client to purchase a license for the software and provide that license to the freelancer. With the understanding that the client owns the software and it is to be used on only their project. In some cases the software is uninstalled or removed from the freelancer's systems once the projects are complete. Any client that "gets around" legally paying for tools they need will "get around" paying your invoices when they are presented. Required tools are a tax deduction and for business there's no viable reason to not pay for them.

This also makes your work in these scenarios a work-for-hire type of agreement since the client is providing tools - you may not want to complete work under a work-for-hire umbrella.

For me personally, if I do not already own software required to complete a project - I examine the costs of the software for my business and the return I would receive on that investment. If possible I look into alternative software to compete the tasks. However, if it is determined that it is not cost effective for my business to purchase a license for a particular software package, then I don't take on work which requires that software.

But there may be ways to keep the project when this problem arises. (but not for clients asking you to steal outright) -- During bidding/quoting and it's determined that specialty software is needed, check the numbers. If profit on a project would make the cost of the software viable - i.e. the project would yield a profit of $5,000 and the software in question is $1,000. So I'd merely cut my profit by purchasing the software. I would seek a (non-refundable) deposit before work began which covered the software cost and initial work to be performed. As stated previously, purchase of software (tools) to complete your work is a tax deduction, so there's no real reason you shouldn't be legal if you are in business.


If you really need the job I'd look for comparable software that would be legal to use.

Personally, I'd drop the project like a hot potatoe.

  • 2
    That's potato, Mr. Quayle. But I agree with you 100%
    – SDsolar
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 20:11

You cannot do it. If a client offered you good money to smuggle drugs would you do that? How about sharing illegal porn, would you do that? What about buying beer for underage drinkers, would you do that? Your client is asking you to use illegal software, you have to be asking why? What sort of person would do that? Is this the sort of person you really want to be doing business with. I am guessing you want to be professional, you want to be legitimate, you want to build a career on a solid foundation. If so, then do not do this, you are worth more than that.

He may see it as a victimless crime, but he is stealing from the people that have invested millions in development and design and production. He is stealing their code. How would you feel if he stole yours?

As user6035379 said, find some other source of legitimate software and say to him, I cannot use the info you sent as it is obviously illegally obtained and not a genuine license key. If you say it is I will check with the original vendor, but on the assumption it is not, I would suggest we proceed with this open source version of the software, etc etc.

He will respect you more for it in the end. But if you lose the job, that might be just as well anyway, since he has already indirectly implied you are dishonest, stupid or desperate. You are better than that I am sure.


Many years ago before starting freelancing I used to work in a big Internet provider as employee web designer & developer, the company used to install expensive cracked software on all computers and also sent his technicians to install servers inside companies using cracked softwares provided by the bosses.

One day the fiscal police (who was informed by others) came to the company and you have no idea how many problems we employees had for the next years. The company closed and had to pay very high penalties. We were called many times to testify to the judges in the court, and the technicians who used to install cracked softwares provided by the bosses were initially involved in the crime of piracy togheter with the bosses, because they knew the softwares were cracked.

So I warmly suggest you to:

  • Pretend regularly licensed software.
  • Find an open source or cheaper alternative if possible.
  • If you think it can be an investment for you, buy yourself a licence.
  • If you really want to go on, at least make the client sign a declaration of release where he declares that the softwares that he provides to you are fully legal and regularly licensed.
  • 1
    #4 probably has a few lawyers howling, already. No one can give you a "release" for committing a criminal act, and you are obviously an expert enough in the field to know that this is a criminal act. Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 0:44
  • @WesleyLong there are cases when you don't know if you are committing a criminal act. For example if the client gives you pictures, graphics, sounds, texts that you elaborate and publish, you don't know if he purchased the license for them, he produced them or he stole them from internet. So it's common use to sign declaration of release on these things where the client declare that he is ok with the law. Is not your fault if he gives you stolen images. The same if he provides you a software and a key licence, how can you know if he purchased it or not? He can say "yes I purchased it" and lie.
    – Mario
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 8:35
  • 2
    Your point on graphics is well-taken. However, that is not a comparable situation. The client provided the contractor with a password cracker. There is no contrivance where the contractor could claim this was a legitimate license. Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 15:32
  • @WesleyLong Of course in the specific case of the password cracker is obviously not legitimate software and I agree with you. But sometimes softwares can be paid per download, per subscriptions, per membership or in other forms that are less traceable or recognizable. Sometimes my clients buy themselves licences or services that I use for their projects and I always pretend a declaration of release for anything they provide me. If anything happens I have something to show at least :)
    – Mario
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 17:11

Never use pirated materials! NEVER! This is how you make your living, if you want your reputation to be less than strellar this is the fastest way to get there.Is this a client you want to associate with? Remember what your mother told you "you are who you hang out with...." On a more serious note consider the legal implications of this request and know that your liability insurance would not cover you if there is litigation later. Also know that you will be judged by other clients by what you did for this client as much as what you did not do and this will affect your future earning ability. You should make it clear to this client that this is not appropriate and then provide alternatives. If this client is cash strapped many software vendors offer trial licenses that can be converted on a prorated basis and many sales reps will work with clients to gain a future sale. So there are options-theft however is never one of them....

  1. Never use pirated software. It makes you complicit in a crime that the client is committing (and therefore, an accessory if not an accomplice).
  2. Never use pirated software. It is usually woefully behind on security updates and patches.
  3. Never use pirated software. It, or the cracking application, is often packing malware in the installation.
  4. Never use pirated software. Those who would steal from others will happily steal from you.
  5. Be sure it's pirated software before declining the job. Some software applications actually use a crack or license file you drop in (I'm looking at you, some versions of Delphi). Do your research
  6. If you know it's pirated, look up the publisher. Some publishers pay a ridiculous bounty for turning in users of pirate software, and you might be able to remove an illicit company from the market while at the same time making more than they could ever pay you. The BSA has itself put up thousand to million dollar bounties depending on the severity of the infringement.

If a client is asking you to break the law, you shouldn't even attempt to do that job.

If anyone asks the client "Who did this job?", the client would point the finger at you. The client would have "clean hands" in that sense and would lay the blame on you.

So don't do it, and ask him to work with legal software; their infrastructure will be better and you wont be liable.


Contact the software vendor and try to negotiate a temporary licence, or even see if you can get a short-term trial license from the vendor. Check the terms of licensing for if you can use the software and final works for production use until the license expires.

And keep in mind that if you do choose to use the pirated software (which I would advise against), you have now created a paper trail where you have admitted knowledge of it being pirated and should you be found pirating the software, this prior knowledge will certainly not help you if prosecuted.

  • 1
    Maybe you could just straight away turn the client in! Inform the vendor someone is pirating their software. Your client will thank you for your integrity later. Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 20:26
  • Good answer. Your second paragraph is as good as the first. DMCA has very stiff penalties. Remember Neurenberg - they still hung the guys who said they were just following orders. The Nazis documented everything so the orders were very clear.
    – SDsolar
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 20:14

Remote into a computer on your client's network that has a licensed version of the required software installed. Do you work remotely, and you wont need a licensed copy on your computer.

That is of course IF they have a licensed copy on their networks. They may be pirating all there copies too. If so, then I'd walk away, if not run! If they don't value the other programmers, who's to say they will value your work?


Try to convince them to use replacement software that is not an illegal copy.

If using pirated software is the only option, drop it; it's not worth it.


Don't do it.

Think of it this way: If the program the client wanted to steal was one you wrote and would lose the income from by their theft, would you think that was OK?

You write software for a living. Don't steal other people's work, that's stealing their life.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.