First Sale Doctrine: Making it Up as we Go Along

Last month a district court in Seattle issued an order telling Autodesk, the maker of the AutoCAD software product, that it could not use its copyrights to prevent a man named Timothy Vernor from selling copies of that software on eBay. In Vernor v. Autodesk, the court ruled that the so-called first sale doctrine leaves Autodesk without the exclusive right to distribute copies of AutoCAD possessed by Vernor. Given the interests of my current employer, I am not going to comment here on the correctness of that opinion. Nonetheless, the case is worthy of comment because it takes, in my experience, an unusually strict interpretive approach. It’s also a fun decision. In it, I hear the exasperated voice of a trial judge trying to make sense out of a meandering legal doctrine.

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