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The Adobe CS2 Copyright Conundrum

People have mostly stopped talking about the link page that Adobe exposed a few weeks ago, allowing the download of an activation-free copy of the entire Creative Suite 2. The page is still there, still wide open, and you no longer even have to sign in to your Adobe account to get it. What they’re up to remains unknown, though the firm has said many times and in many places that the downloads are for customers who already own the software. Adobe turned off the CS2 activation servers late last year, for reasons that remain unexplained. I’m thinking that they did the math and realized (duhhh!) that activation has its costs, and just cutting off paying customers who legitimately need to reinstall will only make those customers hate them, and very likely turn them into pirates.

I’ve said this for years: There’s no better way to teach honest people to be pirates than by “grabbing back” the use of content (software, ebooks–1984, anybody? music, anything) that they’ve already paid for. It’s untested in the courts as best I know, but to me this is very clearly fraud.

So the mystery remains. This morning, a backchannel friend (“backchannel” means email or texts relating to something on Contra) pointed me to all the original used copies of CS2 that can be had on eBay for as little as $40 or $50. He asked if it would be legal to buy one of those copies, which are original CDs in their original packaging, and then download the activation-free images from Adobe and install them.

Good question, and with a lot of questions pertaining to copyright, subject to interpretation. Big software firms have furiously fought the First Sale doctrine on software, and have pretty much won on products that are pure downloads without any physical media. They can deny activation on used software, and claim that it’s their right to do so. Adobe is very fussy about transferring ownership of their licenses, which is one reason I have not upgraded my 2002-era copy of InDesign 2.0. I consider this a sort of “hardass tax” that firms like Adobe seem willing to pay: They don’t get money I would gladly pay for an activation-free product.

Here’s the real question: If I have the original physical CDs for CS2, is my use of the activation-free download images legal? I don’t know. Could Adobe come after me (or anybody else) in court for doing so? There is some way-thin chance that they might, but it would open the gates of Hell upon their heads.

Will I try this? Still thinking. When I come to a decision I’ll let you know.

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