You Might Not Own the Software You Bought

Ryan Whitwam

A ruling from a federal appeals court Friday may have wide ranging on your ability to do as you please with legitimately purchased software. The court ruled that software makes are permitted to prohibit the resale of their products by consumers with special language in the sales agreement. This is in opposition to the first-sale doctrine which holds that re-sale by those that legally purchased the software is acceptable.

The case revolves around an eBay seller who was selling a legal copy of Autodesk AutoCAD. The licensing agreement forbade resale. “The terms of the software license in the case are not very different from the terms of most software licensing. So I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t own their software,” said the defense attorney in the case. Large firms like Adobe, McAfee, the MPAA, and Google all came out in support of Autodesk's position.

Autodesk makes software that sells for thousands of dollars, and claims that the license cannot be transferred without written consent. It's unclear if even moderately expensive programs like Photoshop would be targets of this new strict enforcement. Even if this is a one-off case, we might need to think about our software licenses differently.

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