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Autodesk Wins: Software License Restrictions Trump “First Sale” Doctrine

AutoCAD logo on software packaging

Update: On September 10, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (in Vernor v. Autodesk) reversed the District Count decision discussed below. Supporting software licensors’ reasonable business expectations, the Court held “that a software user is a licensee rather than an owner of a copy where the copyright owner (1) specifies that the user is granted a license; (2) significantly restricts the user’s ability to transfer the software; and (3) imposes notable use restrictions.” [Emphasis added.] Accordingly, Vernor, as a licensee, was not protected by the first sale doctrine when he sold copies of Autodesk’s software.

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In Vernor v. Autodesk, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington told Autodesk that despite the restrictions in its license agreement, Autodesk could not preclude its customer from selling AutoCAD software to a third party.

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You May Be a Software Pirate and Not Even Know It

I was retained by a small company that had received a letter from one of its most important software vendors. The letter said the company “may have installed on its computers more copies of… software than it is licensed to use.” It then pointed out that unauthorized duplication of proprietary software violates federal copyright law and the applicable license agreement and that “potential remedies… are significant.” [emphasis added] The letter ended by requesting that my client:

  • Audit all of its computers for copies of the vendor’s software and provide the audit results within three weeks
  • Not destroy any installed software
  • Not purchase any more of the vendor’s software until the matter is resolved

The client’s owner was concerned. She did not know of any illegally installed software; even worse, she was suspicious and uneasy about how the vendor could have such information.

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