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I just got off a very long and very frustrating phone call with Apple support.

I purchased a used Apple computer which came installed with Mountain Lion. Meaning that the computer was shipped by Apple with Mountain Lion installed, and received by me with that same installation.

As a precaution, I tried to reinstall Mountain Lion via Recovery mode. This failed because my Apple ID hasn't purchased Mountain Lion.

Apple insisted that because I didn't purchase the computer new, I don't have a license for OS X. I don't believe this is correct, or even legal. This means that anyone using a used computer is doing so illegally, unless they've purchased a separate OS license.

Am I way off-base here? I'm pretty sure I now "own" a copy of Mountain Lion, and Apple is in the wrong. If this is correct, what are my options?

  • Some options about Support: First rule of thumb is, call again. See where you get with a new tech support person. I'd probably google the issue and check Apple Discussions first, to have some evidence. And was your call bumped up a level? – Zo219 Jan 6 '13 at 3:50
  • Well even I haven't purchased Lion in my AppleID, I still get it to install Lion on my Air 2011 (shipped with Lion installed by default) because Apple will check the serial. Is your Macbook shipped with ML installed? or the new owner bought it later? – Tuan Anh Tran Jan 6 '13 at 5:11
  • @TuanAnhTran Yes, this computer shipped with ML installed. – knite Jan 6 '13 at 5:51
  • I'm not sure how you are upgrading, but I don't recall every being prompted for my Apple ID using Internet Recovery: support.apple.com/kb/HT4718?viewlocale=en_US&locale=en_US It verifies the machine on Apple's servers and then if it gets the green light, begins the install. – user10355 Sep 23 '13 at 3:27
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The agent should get low feedback. The license to Mountain Lion transfers with the computer when it is sold.

The agent should have told you that no Apple ID is needed to download another copy of the installer since the system prompts you to send the serial number for verification.

Now, you don't get a license to the Mountan Lion upgrade to install on other computers. That is software you purchase separately from a computer and that is tied to one Apple ID and is not transferable. (like everything else sold from the App Store)

The one case where you don't get Mountain Lion is if the machine shipped from the factory with Lion but was sold with a "free upgrade" to Mountain Lion. This could happen in the window between when they announce the new OS to when it's released or on Mac that are imaged in the factory before Mountain Lion was released, but sold after the release.

In that case, Apple have a free redemption of the upgrade to the first Apple ID to redeem it. The only license that would transfer would be Lion and not Mountain Lion.

  • I went through several agents, including a final escalation to someone in an Apple ID-related department. The machine shipped from the factory with Mountain Lion, and I'm trying to reinstall on the same machine. You're right that the machine sends the serial number for verification, but following this step is a second verification by Apple ID. That's the step that fails. – knite Jan 6 '13 at 6:31
  • Keep us posted. I've not had troubles with this on several Macs - hopefully it's an odd database problem that they can get sorted. I would expect them to gift you the upgrade outright (or send a gift card later) if they can't remedy this in a day or so. Wen Apple realizes they messed up, I've found them to be very amenable to making things right. – bmike Jan 6 '13 at 6:49
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My experience was not as bmike said. I just erased my MBA SSD and selected the Reinstall OS X option in preparation to sell the MBA. I have several Apple ID's and I picked one that had never purchased Lion. It would not permit the download of the OS for reinstall. So I switched to an Apple ID that had purchased Lion for a older computer and it was allowed to download. But the fact is, this computer came with Lion pre-installed and I should not need to have purchased Lion separately in reinstall it. Bad Apple! Fix this!

  • Thanks for reporting a different experience. It would be interesting to ask Apple support what that specific Mac wasn't granted a re-download. With millions of Macs sold, I wonder if some get misclassified. What did support.apple.com have to say when you contacted them? – bmike Sep 15 '13 at 13:23
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Often OS licenses are not transferable. You would have to read the EULA to be sure.

The OS that came with the system is most likely what would be allowed. Did the previous owner give you any system disks? Any upgrades they purchased wouldn't be transferable since you can't transfer purchases between AppleIDs.

Most likely you will need to purchase Mountain Lion under your AppleID then you will be able to install it on your new system.

How much is your time and frustration worth? Mountain Lion is only $20 and it will be usable on all your computers.

  • I've edited my post to clarify that the computer was shipped with Mountain Lion. You're right about time and frustration - my $20 copy of ML has been downloading for a couple of hours. I'd still like to escalate this with Apple if at all possible. – knite Jan 6 '13 at 5:52
  • @knote - call back and get your case number of you don't have it. Wait a few days to see if you get emailed a survey and be polite but clear about your disappointment. If you don't get a survey, call back and ask to submit feedback over the phone about the other case. – bmike Jan 6 '13 at 6:15
  • Actually - OS X software shipped with a Mac always transfers the license with the hardware per the EULA. Whether your local legal situation over-rides Apple's license varies, but the intent of Apple is that the license for an OS you buy at retail is transferrable and the license of OS with a Mac must be transferred with sale. – bmike Jan 9 '13 at 17:06
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bmike's comment is very useful to know. I have a slight variation on the question. If I buy a second hand Mac Mini Server, there seems to be no problem doing an Internet install of the version of OS X that came with it (Mountain Lion). However, as a server, it would originally have had the OS X Server app.

I have just had a conversation with Apple Support about this. They said the Server app is licensed to the original owner and does not go with the machine. This seems inconsistent.

Is the app installed as the machine arrives, or do you have to download it from the App Store? For the latter case, I can see it would be licensed to the Apple ID used to download it. If it was on the machine in the box, it should be able to be transferred with the OS licence.

  • Welcome to Ask Different. You've posted this as an answer, which is only for things that directly answer the question asked. If you have a different question, feel free to ask it using the Ask Question button at the top right. – bmike May 23 '17 at 9:56
  • You're right. iLife, iWork, server.app and other Pre-installed apps have other licensing terms than the core os. This is a change from when server was a flavor of the os and not a separate product layered on top. – bmike May 23 '17 at 9:57

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