On Thursday, February 11, the American Library Association (ALA), the Association for College & Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) — the Library Associations — joined a coalition of public interest and consumer groups in urging a federal appeals court to preserve consumers’ rights and the First Sale Doctrine (which allows libraries to lend books) in a battle over an Internet auction of used computer software.
An amicus curiae brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation — joined by the Library Associations, the Consumer Federation of America, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and Public Knowledge — in support of plaintiff Timothy Vernor. Vernor is an online software reseller who tried to auction four authentic packages of Autodesk’s AutoCAD software on eBay. Autodesk sent takedown notices to block his auctions and threatened to sue him for copyright infringement, claiming that its software is only “licensed,” never sold.
At the heart of the case is the First Sale Doctrine — an important limitation under Copyright law that gives copyright holders control over the first vending or sale of their work(s). The first sale doctrine steps in after an individual copy has been sold and puts further disposition of the copy beyond the reach of the copyright owner. The first sale doctrine is fundamental for libraries and other organizations such as archives, used bookstores and online auctions, as it allows a “second life” for copyrighted works.
The brief argues, in part, that the first sale doctrine is well-established, serves critical economic and democratic values, and promotes access to knowledge, preservation of culture, and resistance to censorship. Libraries rely on provisions in the Copyright Act, such as first sale, to accept donations of special collections and to preserve these works. If Autodesk wins this case, software vendors would potentially be permitted to evade the first sale doctrine via contractual license agreements. Such a ruling could allow other copyright owners to follow suit with licenses on books, CDs, DVDs, and other media, with strong implications for libraries and our users.
The full amicus brief can be viewed here.