Dear Aunt TUAW: If I sell my old Mac, does Lion go with it?

Dear Aunt TUAW,

So, the last time I sold a Mac I bundled it up with my Tiger install discs and sent it on its way, but having installed Lion on my MacBook and readying my bank account for the impending purchase of a MacBook Air, what happens to Lion when this laptop goes to the big eBay in the sky?

Can I sell something on if I don’t own the physical product?
If it’s tied to my iTunes account does it take records of my associated email account with it?

Your loving nephew,


Dear Matt,

Auntie is not a lawyer. She does not even play a lawyer on TV. But as a completely unqualified non-expert, here’s how the matters seem to shake out.

  • App Store Lion licenses follow the account and not the hardware
  • Pre-installed licenses follow the hardware, and not the account
  • The install process from the recovery partition seems to follow the hardware as well.

Preinstalled Lion

Here’s what Apple says about hardware that came with Lion.

If you obtained the Apple Software preinstalled on Apple-branded hardware, you may make a one-time permanent transfer of all of your license rights to the Apple Software (in its original form as provided by Apple) to another party…

Hardware that already had Lion on it, can be sold and the license transfers with it. You can restore the machine to its virginal state and sell it off. The new user should be able to use the recovery partition to re-install the OS whenever needed. Your e-mail should not be involved.

Since the hardware is newer, should the hard drive fail, the user should be able to use the over-the-air restore process.

That process does not seem to involve any user authentication. The hardware likely checks in with some kind of central Apple database that associates the machine ID with shipped-with-Lion install, but Apple is being closed lipped as usual in disclosing how the eligibility is determined. Auntie guesses it’s the hardware identity.

Upgraded to Lion

For pre-Lion hardware, Apple takes a firmer line. Here’s what they say about selling systems to third parties.

If you sell your Apple-branded hardware to a third party, you must remove the Apple Software from the Apple- branded hardware before doing so, and you may restore your system to the version of the Apple operating system software that originally came with your Apple hardware (the “Original Apple OS”) and permanently transfer the Original Apple OS together with your Apple hardware…

So as far as Apple is concerned, you still “ship with DVDs” but you also need to downgrade to the original OS. That means completely wiping the drive to remove the recovery partition as well as experiencing all the joys of an OS re-install from DVD.

Auntie suggests another way. Starting in August, you will be able to purchase an install dongle at the Apple Store. That additional $69 may simplify the whole process and the questions behind it ownership transfer.

When you ship a dongle along with a newly dongle-installed machine, you ensure that the new user can start fresh and will have a full license of their own. Of course, that extra $69 takes a bite out of your profit margin. But you’ll be selling Lion-installed hardware rather than whatever your system started out with. (Do make sure to send the original install DVDs as well.)

Dongle installs shouldn’t be associated with your identity either. So again, you should be safe there as well.


Auntie T.

Dear Aunt TUAW: If I sell my old Mac, does Lion go with it? originally appeared on TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Fri, 29 Jul 2011 13:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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