How Adobe Drives Infringement Of Its Products Through Incompatibility

from the you're-not-helping dept

Adobe is one of the key backers of the BSA, which is famous for its, at times, highly questionable tactics in "raiding" companies and accusing them of having infringing software and forcing them to pay up. And, yet, at the same time, its own actions may be one of the biggest causes of infringement of its software. Part of it is pricing. Adobe's products have become something of a standard in the design world, and because of that, there's something of a monopoly tax (though, some new entrants really are trying to break that). But, as Joe Karaganis pointed out a few weeks ago (yes, this one's old, but I'm catching up), Adobe seems to go to ridiculous lengths to make things worse for paying customers by not making some of its products backwards compatible. That's fine if only you are using the product. But when -- as is almost always the case in design -- there are collaborative efforts where files need to be shared, it's deathly. And Adobe seems to have perfected death by incompatibility:
Like a lot of publishing projects, the production of MPEE was a small scale collaboration involving free lance help for book layout, maps, and proofing. Once the text is laid out in publishing software (for us, InDesign), all of these stages are most easily done in InDesign. Here, we learned a painful lesson. Adobe has released 3 versions of InDesign in 4 years. All of them break compatibility with the previous versions. So when our layout designer (CS3) handed the doc off to our map illustrator (CS4), the document saved up and was no longer readable by the former. We bought CS5 in our Columbia U office (via a not-ridiculously-priced academic license at $300), but the original layout had used Mac fonts, which the PC rendered differently. Ultimately, everyone had to upgrade to the trial version of CS5, and then the clock was ticking and we had 1 month to finish.
Adobe's response to all of this is, effectively, "well, buy a copy of all versions." Easier said than done, of course, and that's where it helps drive unauthorized infringement. Many people will buy one version, but feel that it's somewhat extortionate to force people to buy the latest version just to open files.

Now, some may point out that this is Adobe's way of doing implicit price discrimination. If it's not really enforcing copyright on most players, then those who are able to afford the upgrades do, and those who can't, don't (but likely get unauthorized versions). And that would work if there wasn't such a huge risk in doing so. When the BSA actively urges employees to "rat out" their employers, and seems, at times, to relish going after small businesses, this creates serious chilling effects.

Of course, it also seems like it should be an opportunity for others in the market. To date, it's definitely been difficult for others to get into the market -- and part of that is the proprietary nature of the way Adobe saves files. Opening that up would definitely drive significantly more competition (which is why Adobe doesn't want to do it). So how do people break that cycle? When the "lock-in" from the user base is pretty strong, how is it possible to get people to move to solutions that aren't so anti-consumer? Alternatively, how could Adobe itself adjust, so that it's more reasonable?

I would argue that even if Adobe's lock-in position is dominant today, it won't always be, and pissing off consumers with ridiculous stunts like this won't help. If Adobe's smart, it'll head off competitors not by continuing this sort of anti-consumer behavior, but by focusing on continuing to add more value to the products, while making them more consumer friendly. Many people are happy to buy Adobe products. But forcing them to buy multiple versions makes them a lot less happy. That may be good for the bottom line in the short run, but it's really risky in the long run.

Filed Under: copyright, incompatibility, infringement, piracy
Companies: adobe

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  1. icon
    Billy Wenge-Murphy (profile), 6 May 2011 @ 3:21pm

    Re: Adobe is now...

    Now, if only the internet would stop using Flash so I can rid my system of the word "adobe" from folders and registry entries

    Sure thing, as soon as the technology catches up. The collection of cool new stuff you can do natively in a webpage, loosely called "HTML5", is getting closer and closer to Flash's capabilities.

    But that's the thing: Flash is ahead and the alternatives are still playing catch-up, years on:

    - <canvas> is finally a full replacement for the raster graphics capabilities added in Flash 8....about 6 years ago.

    - Video is hit and miss because Microsoft and Apple, as members of MPEG-LA, are pushing the patented H.264, and undermined the <video> standard. Open source browsers CAN'T support patented technologies, and WebM support is coming to Flash (it already does H.264), so it'll stick around as the cross-browser delivery method of choice.

    - Poor networking support (WebSockets were sent back to the drawing board for a controversial safety reason)

    - Can't do webcams and microphones at all (The work on this is brand new)

    - SVG is a bit glitchy compared to vector rendering through SWF, and, more importantly, vector animation capabilities outside Flash are practically non-existent. You just have a hodgepodge of half-assed alternatives. Luckily, vector animation is increasingly irrelevant.

    - Flash 10 added great dynamic audio capabilities. For HTML5, there are two competing alternatives. Firefox's Audio Data API, which finally found its way into the stable branch (Firefox 4) and the Web Audio API (yes, confusing) which is still limited to experimental builds of Mac Safari. Opera isn't participating at all. It'll be at least another year before we can do that reliably.

    But Adobe continues to add features to widen the gap. Will WebGL be as good as Molehill? AIR is being given the ability to target all sorts of different devices. Will HTML5 apps get similar treatment? (Before you drink the Apple Kool-Aid and say "Steve Jobs is a big friend of open standards! Mobile Safari supports HTML5!", go check out and see how poor its support really is)


    There's idealistic philosophy fantasy land, and then there's the reality. I look forward to a Flash-free web....about 5 years from now when the capabilities, maybe, catch-up to what Flash offers.

    Even then, Adobe's software may still be dominant, if theirs is the better, easier toolset for the average person. People point out "Well, Adobe is giving us HTML5 export, so they're killing themselves!". Not so. As this article touches on, their dominance stems from their tools and not their plug-in alone. They may very well dig their talons into HTML5 authoring (or they may go the way of Microsoft Frontpage)

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