Don’t get too excited, because I’m sure Autodesk will appeal, but as reported at Owen Wengerd’s CAD/Court, Vernor has won the right to resell his used copies of AutoCAD. While this is seen by some as a victory for customers, it isn’t. This doesn’t open up a brave new world in which we are allowed to sell the software we buy once we’re finished with it. If it had, I would be rejoicing as loud as anybody, because Autodesk’s ban on software transfers is an unconscionable restriction and deserves to die. But that’s not what this decision means. There are specific and paradoxical circumstances here, which allowed Vernor to win this case despite being morally wrong in my view, but will not benefit legitimate software users.
Vernor won (for now, and in one jurisdiction) because the court found he was not a party to the EULA. He didn’t read it, he didn’t click on anything to indicate his agreement to it, nothing. He just bought a bunch of books and discs and wanted to sell them on eBay. The fact that the item being sold is a remnant from software that had already been upgraded was not considered relevant. Neither was the fact that Autodesk is not obliged to provide the buyer of the discs with the codes they will need to make the software work. The upshot is that this decision will allow a small number of people to buy and sell useless discs. What about the buyers of those discs who may not know they are useless until too late? Caveat emptor, I guess. Some other court can sort out that mess.
I agree with Ralph Grabowski that “software should be no different than any other consumer good: buy it, use it, resell it, or toss it”. I’d love to see Autodesk and other vendors forced to support a legitimate used software resale market (as they once did in pre-eBay days), but this decision won’t make that happen. It won’t help customers at all. If your firm has shrunk a bit and you have some spare licenses, you still can’t sell them because you are a party to the EULA (probably, although this area is still a bit fuzzy). But take heart! If you go bust, your creditors may be able to slip any discs left over from your upgrade history into a garage sale and hope that Mr. Vernor drops by. Mr. Vernor will be allowed to sell them, and the new buyers will be allowed to put them on their shelves and look at them.
Is that really a win for customers? I don’t think so.