May 16, 2005

If it Sounds Too Good to be True…

Ever wonder about the web sites that offer a full version of Photoshop for $99.99? Is it legit or is it a scam? Well, do you really even need to ask?

PhotoshopNews has noted the tendency for a lot of web sites to offer discounted or OEM versions of Photoshop for far below the normal retail price. Google Ads are particularly aggressive in touting discount prices-often on web sites that are designed to promote Photoshop or offer tutorials or Photoshop tips & techniques. Come ons such as “Adobe Software 90% Off” or “Photoshop CS2 $278.45 Rock-bottom price! Save Over 80% Off Adobe” or “Photoshop 50$” attract a lot of attention but what are these web sites really offering?

The Cornell University Law School has a page that may give a clue–ironically, the Cornell site is actually used as justification by that what they are doing is legitimate. From the Cornell site:

(a) Making of Additional Copy or Adaptation by Owner of Copy.— Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program to make or authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of that computer program provided:

(1) that such a new copy or adaptation is created as an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine and that it is used in no other manner, or

(2) that such new copy or adaptation is for archival purposes only and that all archival copies are destroyed in the event that continued possession of the computer program should cease to be rightful.

What these web sites are essentially doing is selling you copies of the actual Adobe Photoshop installer disks while claiming that they are selling them as “back ups” for people who are the legitimate owners of the software.

Many of the websites include disclamers such as “This is a CD only sale. All CD’s are brand new and still in the factory seal. This is the full version not a limited or trial version. As bundled software it qualifies for all online upgrades but does not qualify for technical support registration from Adobe”.

Ok, while they claim it’s “the full version not a limited or trial version” they also state that it “does not qualify for technical support registration from Adobe”. So, do you really think this is a legitimate sale of a license of Photoshop?

It’s particularly notable that many of these websites sell previous versions of Photoshop such as Photoshop 7 or Photoshop CS AFTER a new version is released by Adobe. However, Adobe has a policy of only selling the current shipping version of Photoshop. Adobe also no longer sells “OEM” (original equipment manufacturers) versions of Photoshop. Adobe Photoshop Elements is sold as OEM versions to camera, printer and scanner manufacturers but the full retail version of Photoshop is rarely bundled with any hardware any more. That’s not to say Adobe didn’t. It used to be a good way of getting a copy of Photoshop really cheap. Some scanners came with a full legit registerable copy of Photoshop. At the time (middle 1990′s) the cost of the scanner was often only slightly higher than the cost of Photoshop. It was almost like buying Photoshop and getting a scanner nearly free. But those days are over.

It should also be noted that these websites spring up overnight and often disappear just as quickly. Some even offer 30-day money back guarantees. Often several web site url’s will redirect to the same IP number.

Are these web sites legit? Not really. While U.S. Copyright law does allow for “Fair Use” backup and archiving, the sales of such backups is questionable. Statements such as “The software on this web site is not eligible for registration or tech support from it’s respective manufacture.” –which basically translates to these are not legit copies, tells you that you are not buying a full retail license to the software. Ironically, even though it “sounds cheap”, when you understand you are not getting a full license and registration, even at $99.99 you are paying for a very expensive CD duplication service.

Are there legitimate methods of getting Photoshop for less than the regular retail price of about $600.00? Yes. If you are a student or educator and are with an accredited educational institute you would qualify for an education pricing towards Adobe products. Educational pricing for Photoshop CS2 is $299.00. Adobe has a web page outlining exactly how to qualify for educational pricing.

If you receive an OEM version of Adobe Photoshop Elements as part of a digital camera, printer or scanner sale, you are also eligible to upgrade from Elements to a full version of Photoshop at a reduced rate. While the Adobe Store lists such upgrades as costing $499.00, Adobe will offer occasional promotional discounts through their partners for less. Sometimes as low as $399.00.

You can also buy a “used version of Photoshop” legitimately. However, to do so you must understand several caveats; you must make sure that the original owner has a legitimate license and you need to be sure they will execute a transfer of license with Adobe. From the Adobe web page outlining the procedure:

Transfer an Adobe License

Return a completed Transfer of Adobe License form to Adobe any time you sell or give away a single-user, retail version of a licensed Adobe product that is registered in your name. The product remains licensed to you or the company to which it’s registered until Adobe receives the completed Transfer of Adobe License form. Once Adobe receives the form, the Adobe software can be registered to the new owner. Registration ensures that the new owner is recognized as the legal licensee and can receive customer service and support.

If you follow this procedure, you will be able to purchase and legitimately transfer a license. This is often a very good way of obtaining a legitimate license as a backup or for running on additional computers or across platform.

Adobe also offers cross-platform license transfers. To find out the current policy and price, contact Adobe Customer Support, seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Pacific time, call toll-free at 888-724-4508.

The bottom line is that piracy costs software publishers an enormous amount of lost revenue that ends up costing customers a lot of grief. Adobe says “Be cautious when ordering software over the Internet. Many resellers with Internet storefronts or those who sell from auction sites knowingly distribute copies of software illegally. Estimates reveal that as much as 90% of software sold over Internet auction sites is either bootlegged or gray market. So, if the pricing seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Many legitimate users feel inconvenienced by anti-piracy technologies such as dongles, product activation and other attempts at reducing bootlegging and infringement. The Software Publishers Association has estimated that there are between 3x to 5x the number of bootleg copies of Photoshop to registered licensed users. Over the years, this piracy has cost Adobe millions of dollars in lost revenue and has forced Adobe to take anti-piracy measures.

SPA says about Internet websites that claim to offer discounted software:

I have found a website where I can buy software at a cost much lower than at the store, is this legit?

If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. There are many sites that sell OEM software or backup copies. You should avoid these sites. Not only are they probably dealing in counterfeit software, but they may even rip-off the credit card that you use. When shopping for software, it is possible to find good deals while still getting legal software. Here are a few pointers to tell if the site is not selling legal copies:

* If they have any type of disclaimer about the legality of their software, it isn’t legal.

* The software is labeled as OEM or backup software. Not only is it illegal, but you will not be given the same level of tech support.

* Pay attention to the location from which they ship the software. If it comes from Eastern Europe, China or other locations that have high piracy rates, it may be suspect.

* You are warned not to register the software.

* The software is being sold as Academic Version or “Not for Resale.”

* If they offer the software in a download format as opposed to a physical disk shipped to your door then there is a good chance that the software is pirated. While many companies are using the direct download method to reshape the methods of distribution, they very rarely allow third parties to distribute in this fashion.

The other thing you really have to ask yourself is whether you really want to give your credit card number to some fly by night operation that is potentially operating on the fringes of the law. If these shady operators are willing to skirt the copyright laws, what’s to say they won’t skirt the laws regarding credit card transactions as well?

The other thing that PhotoshopNews would like to state is that we find it particularly ironic (and a bit distasteful) that websites devoted to Photoshop would accept advertising from places like Google Ads that advertises what should clearly be considered questionable software merchants. We suggest pointing this out to the owners of these websites.

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