Who owns the firmware on a smartphone, the device manufacturer or the purchaser?  Ownership of copies of computer programs is a thorny issue with which the federal courts have grappled in numerous cases. The issue arose during the most recent round of triennial rulemaking that resulted in the promulgation of a new set of exceptions to 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a), which prohibits the circumvention of technological measures deployed to limit access to copyrighted works.

Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc. is a closely followed case in which an eBay reseller of software argues that his resales are protected by the copyright first sale doctrine, and software company Autodesk is arguing that because the AutoCad software Mr. Vernor is auctioning on eBay is licensed, not sold, Mr. Vernor is not an owner of the copies within the meaning of the doctrine. Vernor instituted this action seeking a declaratory judgment that his resales did not constitute direct or contributory copyright infringement.

In May 2008, the court denied Autodesk’s motion for summary judgment dismissing Vernor’s complaint. As we blogged at the time, the court ruled that the original transation between Autodesk and Vernor’s transferor (an architectural firm that purchased the AutoCAD software for use in its practice) constituted a sale, and thus the subsequent transfer of the software to Vernor was a further sale protected by the first sale doctrine. Following discovery, the court has now concluded that there are no materially relevant facts different from those before the court, and that judgment should be entered in favor of Vernor.