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Adobe: All your content belongs to us

7 Jun 2024

Adobe is a software publisher with a number of top-tier titles in its catalog.

Adobe Acrobat has become a mainstay of the document publishing market, allowing for sophisticated formating and version control with support across a wide range of platforms.

Photoshop and Premiere have become industry-standard image and video editing applications and are used by countless millions of people every day.

When Adobe moved to a subscription model for many of its applications there was barely a murmor from customers. This was sold as a "feature" rather than an ongoing cost. For a simple monthly or annual fee you'd have access to the software without having to worry about paying for upgrades or new versions when they became available.

A change announced this week however, has the creative industry and business users foaming at the mouth in anger.

It seems that Adobe has decided that if you use any of its programs then they have the right to use the content you create for their own purposes.

This even goes as far as effectively allowing them to duplicate your material, derive new works from it and license it to others - without payment or notification to you.

In effect: any and all content that touches an Adobe product now belongs to Adobe.

To quote the company's own terms of service:

4.2 Licenses to Your Content. Solely for the purposes of operating or improving the Services and Software, you grant us a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free sublicensable, license, to use, reproduce, publicly display, distribute, modify, create derivative works based on, publicly perform, and translate the Content. For example, we may sublicense our right to the Content to our service providers or to other users to allow the Services and Software to operate as intended, such as enabling you to share photos with others"

This went down like a lead balloon.

On X (formerly Twitter), a huge number of outraged Adobe users left comments expressing their anger and concern. For example:

Hey @Photoshop what the hell was that new agreement you forced us to sign this morning that locked our ap until we agree to it? We are working on a bloody movie here and NO, you don't suddenly have the right to any of the work we're doing on it because we pay yoyu to use photoshop. WTF?!

That tweet was later deleted -- apparently there is a way to opt-out but it's not trivial to do so and odds are that a lot of users will just click "accept" without even taking the time to read what they're agreeing to.

I suspect that like many companies riding the AI wave right now, Adobe is simply attempting to get users to agree to its use of their content for training its AI models. This clause effectively gives them access to a huge database of text, video and image data that represents an enormous value to any company seeking to train their AI systems.

The problem I see is that this is a one-way exchange of value. Adobe gets all that value but those whose material is being used as training data get nothing in return. Such unbalanced value-exchanges tend to be problematic and I would not be surprised to see an uptick in companies that finally kick Adobe's products to the curb in favour of alternatives such as Davinci Resolve from Blackmagic Designs.

Another potential problem for users is "leakage" -- the situation where sensitive or proprietary information is used as training material and the AI later discloses that information in a way that can be highly damaging to the parties from who the content was scraped.

I shall be monitoring the fallout from this decision by Adobe carefully and will keep readers informed.

Carpe Diem folks!

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