First-Sale Doctrine and Resale of Software: Vernor v. Autodesk Ruling

A ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the Vernor v. Autodesk case has put into question the right to resell software.

Here's an excerpt from Sherwin Siy's "Software Companies Own Your Hard Drive: Ninth Circuit Rules for Formality Over Function":

In Vernor v. Autodesk, the appeals court held that Autodesk could stop Vernor from selling copies of their software on eBay by claiming that those resales were an infringement of its copyrights. Ordinarily, a copyright holder can't prevent someone from selling or otherwise distributing a lawfully made copy of the work, so long as that person owns the copy. Here, Autodesk argued that Vernor never owned the copies (which he bought used from a design firm) because Autodesk included in its sale to that firm a standardized agreement that said that the firm was only "licensing" the disks. . . .

So what does this decision mean? Unchecked, it won't soon lead to a world where I can't donate my old T-shirts to Goodwill, or where PK can start raking in that sweet, sweet statutory damages cash. Those might be theoretical possibilities, but the first effects will likely be something we've already been seeing creeping at the margins. Say goodbye to used software and used games, for instance. That PC version of Bioshock 4 you might buy a few years from now? Don't expect to be able to sell it once you're done with it. Don't even expect to be able to give it away. Game rental services could get litigated out of existence. And while licensing clothing might be beyond the pale, it's not too hard to see the software model being applied to increasingly sold-by-the-bit media like movies and music. All because of fine print, which might be clear and convenient for a court, even if it's exactly the opposite for a consumer.