Software piracy and Photoshop


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An article on argues that firms should sometimes tolerate or encourage the unauthorized copying of intellectual property like music or software. The article argues that piracy can be a form of promotion and that, when it comes to expensive software, it can help a particular product remain well known and widely used in the workforce.

This is definitely true of Adobe’s Photoshop – the world’s premier software for image editing. Buying a copy in a store costs nearly $1000. As such, if everyone using Photoshop actually had to buy a copy, it would rapidly cease to be the industry standard. In order to be a graphical artist these days, you need to know Photoshop. Very few people will buy the software in order to learn enough to get such a job. That said, when amateurs who have developed their skills with pirated versions of Photoshop progress into professional artistic or graphical careers, they will bring both skills and a preference for that specific piece of software along with them.

By creating and maintaining a pool of Photoshop-savvy individuals, Adobe protects its market share among the corporations that actually do buy copies of the software they use. No wonder they have never gone out of their way to make Photoshop difficult to copy and distribute over the web. Adobe seems to be fairly savvy about such decisions, in general. Another example is Acrobat. If you actually had to buy software to open PDF files, it would never have become the industry standard for document distribution. In many cases, those making PDF files are willing to pay Abobe for software that lets them do so easily and well. Once again, giving with one hand allows Adobe to take with the other.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

tristan April 13, 2008 at 11:25 am

This is a good example of what looked like a candidate for a universal ethical principle (don’t steal) produces contradictions. If no one stole photoshop, photoshop wouldn’t exist in the way it does (certainly if it was not the industry standard, they would not sell as many copies and be able to afford the development they can). It is not that there is a “general ethical principle” not to steal, but whether or not to act on that principle is something that depends on your situation.

This isn’t different from the “Should I lie when the axe murderer is chasing the young girl” scenario. The mistake was for undergraduate professors to teach that Kant diverges from Aristotle on this question, when in fact there is no obvious difference between them on the question.

Milan April 13, 2008 at 12:26 pm

An outcome based assessment works well here:

People who pirate Photoshop (and who would not otherwise buy copies) can plausibly be said to benefit Adobe. As such, both their utility and that of the firm is increased, and the act is morally commendable.

Emily April 13, 2008 at 1:55 pm

WinZip benefits from a more direct approach to this kind of distribution. You can use a WinZip trial indefinitely, however, after thirty days you have to sit through the “Your trial has expired! You have opened (running number of files opened)..” message that appears when you try to unzip a file. This number runs higher and higher every time you use it, so it takes longer and longer before the ‘OK’ button becomes ungreyed and you can use the program again.

Eventually it becomes a game of you vs. the amount of time you want to spend staring at a running number before you can unzip your file. I, of course, am a testament to will and patience, and never give in. (read: I’m too cheap.) But people in businesses (who can afford it), purchase it to avoid the inconvenience.

Considering that WinZip is an inexhaustable resource, it seems like a sensible way of spreading and continuing business.

(It’s notable that this approach to software is the same approach they use in successful cafes and businesses: free samples = loyal customers, and positive word-of-mouth feedback.)

Milan April 13, 2008 at 4:41 pm


Why use WinZip at all? Creating compressed archives and uncompressing existing archives is built into Windows XP and Mac OS X.

The only case I have heard of where someone had to use Winzip with XP is because they installed the trial version, which actually breaks the built-in zip functionality in the OS.

tristan April 13, 2008 at 6:00 pm

“People who pirate Photoshop (and who would not otherwise buy copies) can plausibly be said to benefit Adobe. As such, both their utility and that of the firm is increased, and the act is morally commendable.”

It can’t be just that it benefits Adobe that makes it commendable. It has to also be that somehow Adobe has a right to make, distribute, and profit from software. Only on the basis of a series of rights can the fact my actions benefit adobe be called moral.

Yes, Winzip is for noobs.

Emily April 15, 2008 at 3:41 am

Can you password-encrypt compressed files with the software built into Windows XP and Mac OS X?

Also, I don’t think mine came with it, which is why I use WinZip.

Milan April 15, 2008 at 8:45 am

You can make rather robust encrypted archives in OS X, but it isn’t especially easy to do (you need to use the Disk Utility program).

In XP professional, you can encrypt files. I think the Home version leaves that out.

Matt May 8, 2009 at 9:18 pm

“In XP professional, you can encrypt files. I think the Home version leaves that out.”

I hate the multiple versions that Microsoft allows Windows to exist in. It’s even worse for Vista (which completely deserves the bad press). Even Windows 7 is rumoured to be coming in way too many versions.

Milan May 8, 2009 at 9:26 pm

One of which will only let you run three programs at a time, apparently.

It’s like being zapped back to the late 1980s.

I run about five programs at a time, just by default: IM client, text editor, web browser, antivirus, and Dropbox (a kind of internet file storage system – free and very useful).

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