Adobe's terms of disservice

Mark Lyndersay -
Mark Lyndersay -


ADOBE, the market leader in delivering software for designers, photographers and creators in a range of fields, found itself in hot water with its customers when the wording of its new terms of service in the revised end user licensing agreement (EULA) struck a discordant note.

The EULA had apparently been changed since February, but this is a lengthy legal document that users skim idly before clicking acceptance, having read not a single word. It took months before anyone noticed a significant change.

In a dramatic rewording of its handling of customer content stored on its servers, Adobe seemed to claim a sublicence for the creative work uploaded to its servers. Speculation immediately began that it would use that work to train its image generation AI, Firefly.

As part of its now exclusively cloud-based, rental software business, Adobe offers service sweeteners in its plans which allow customers to store data for collaborative work and to create portfolio websites.

The company has since announced a reworking of the offending EULA to remove the inference of sub-licensing, but not before users past and present weighed in.

It didn't help that this revelation came on the heels of a conversation that Adobe's CEO Shantanu Narayen had with The Verge in which he rather proudly declared, "I think generative AI is going to attract a whole new set of people who previously perhaps didn't invest the time and energy into using the tools to be able to tell that story. So, I think it's going to be tremendously additive in terms of the number of people who now say, 'Wow, it has further democratised the ability for us to tell that story.'"

To be fair, Narayen is hardly the only person to be shoving rather startling amounts of money behind the idea that photographers are now largely disposable parts of the image-making process.

Once stock photography sites began including AI alteration and creation tools in their offerings, it was clear that even that wildly devalued photographic revenue stream was also going to dry up at the source.

A week ago, Adobe posted a statement on its company blog to clarify its position and unveiled new, more clearly creator-friendly wording for its EULA, noting, "We've never trained generative AI on customer content, taken ownership of a customer's work, or allowed access to customer content beyond legal requirements. Nor were we considering any of those practices as part of the recent Terms of Use update."

That sounds good, but it presumes that Adobe can draw on a vast wellspring of customer goodwill to tide it over an incident that's shaken customer trust.

I've been an Adobe customer since 1995, when I bought my first copy of Photoshop, version 3, an upgrade from the limited edition copy that shipped with a scanner.

Technically I'm still a customer, because I have an active perpetual licence for version 13 of that software (CS6), though the company hasn't gotten a cent from me since it switched to renting its software by the month.

The activation servers for Adobe's CS, CS2 and CS3 products were shut down between 2013 and 2017.

In May last year, Adobe stopped its customer support from deactivating perpetual licences for customers.

Those licences allowed you two installations (expected to be a laptop and desktop) then locked you out of the software.

An end user can deactivate and reactivate the licence to move to a new computer, but that doesn't work if you've lost your computer to either a hard-drive crash or theft.

Customer support is now stony on this matter, directing users in distress to purchase an updated rental copy of the software.

Using old Adobe software also means maintaining a legacy computer that can run it. Not an easy thing in itself.

The restrictions on activation resets suggest some new meaning of the word perpetual that I can't find, but I am obviously not referencing the dictionary that Adobe uses.

The young photographers on a WhatsApp group I am part of sing the praises of the new Photoshop. I'm sure they are right. But CS6 and most of its predecessors are the best kind of tool for me, an extension of my good right hand.

Photoshop is a sledgehammer that I wield with great fluency in my work. When the handle (computer) wears out, I put the sledge on a replacement stock.

I don't need the new diamond-tempered, titanium-reinforced new model, thank you. Just let me use my trusty, faithful sledgehammer. In perpetuity.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of An expanded version of this column can be found there


"Adobe’s terms of disservice"

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