Most people outside the software industry probably assume that when they pay money in exchange for a package of software, they have just purchased that software. In Vernor v. Autodesk, the Ninth Circuit today cast that assumption into doubt. The court held that Timothy Vernor, who purchased authentic, second-hand copies of software at garage and office sales to sell on eBay, did not own that software and thus had no right to resell it.
Public Citizen represented Vernor in his case against software-publisher Autodesk, which claimed that reselling the software on eBay was copyright infringement. The district court agreed with Vernor and rejected Autodesk’s copyright argument, holding that Vernor had a right to resell the software under copyright’s first-sale doctrine. The first-sale doctrine holds that the “owner of a particular copy” of a copyrighted work has the right to resell that work without permission of the copyright owner. The doctrine dates from a 1908 Supreme Court decision in which the Court held that a book publisher could More