Bought and Paid For

Um, did no one notice that, in my post about Adobe Creative Suite 3 that I mentioned that I had purchased that software package? Like, I bought it for myself, with my own hard-earned money. I didn’t “borrow” the installation discs from a friend or a business, which I’ve done in the past, ahem. (Not that using installation discs owned by some other party is particularly easy these days given Adobe’s anti-piracy measures.) But neither did I go looking for so-called cracked copies of the software on the Web, though they’re readily available, I’m sure.

It’s no doubt a function of the respectable, grown-up’s salary that I’m now lucky enough to bring home, but looking over the software on my hard drive, fully ninety-eight percent of it is legitimately mine (there are a couple of unpaid-for shareware utilities in there — I may be on the straight and narrow, but I’m a procrastinator, too). Meaning, I paid for it, and if you launch the software and invoke its registration screen, it will say “Registered to Khoi Vinh,” or something to that effect.

The Road to Registration

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back just for obeying the law and respecting the rights of software authors and publishers. But it is a big step into the light, so to speak, to properly own so much software when — I’ll admit it — I used to have stacks of not-so-legitimate software burned on CD’s and stashed in my desk. It actually makes me feel good that I’ve left that behind; there’s an intangible but very rewarding feeling knowing that none of the registration screens in my software bear the names of friends or former employers, to say nothing of strangers or organizations I’ve never had any associations with.

Another part of it is that I just haven’t got the time to pirate software any longer, whether by cajoling friends into loaning me their installers or tracking down cracked software online. It’s just too time consuming. Who has time to do that?

I’ll bet, too, that the same goes for lots of you out there. At least the ones who’ve been working professionally for a while. In my experience, this is the pattern for software adoption: as a young and penniless practitioner, I felt priced out of legitimate software ownership and resorted to shadier means of acquiring it. Over the years, I tried to ameliorate those infractions by having my employers purchase licenses whenever possible, somewhat hypocritically dissuading piracy in the workplace. And when I finally got to a station in life where I could get the necessary paperwork together to afford the mortgage for software as exorbitantly priced as Creative Suite 3, I did. From pirate to patron, basically. I’m not condoning it, but I bet mine is not a unique journey. Am I right?

  1. You are right my friend. I just bought three licenses for CS3 and I feel all grown up.

    However Adobe didn’t make it that easy for me not to be sleezy.

    I called them asking about multiple licenses and they sent me on a wild goose chase. Apparently you can’t buy multiple licenses directly from Adobe — You have to track down a software licensing company and purchase it through them.

    Nevertheless, CS3 is on route to my front door and I’m looking forward to keeping it legal from here on in.

  2. Amen, brother. I’m still in the stage of letting my employer buy mine. However, I strongly feel that if I hadn’t used shady methods of acquiring versions of Adobe products early in my budding education/career, I wouldn’t have landed any of my jobs. It’s sort of a catch 22. 🙂

  3. Former pirate, current patron here — I am on the same road. One thing that really helped me out in my journey was educational pricing. That brought the adobe and then-macromedia titles to a more reasonable price-point. and that was when i started getting rid of those burned cd’s with sharpie-scribbled serials.

    It’s interesting to look at the landscape of creative software these days. Software like Pixelmator is making it much more accessible to get seemingly decent software (although I haven’t used it) into people’s hands without charging a small fortune. So someone can get in the door for under $100, and if they get to a point where they need more functionality and have the means, they upgrade to Photoshop. I can only imagine if this would have kept me from “borrowing” software back in the day…

  4. Having been freelancing for over ten years now, probably 99% of my software and fonts (and a similar percentage of my music) is bought and paid for by me.

    I no longer understand the compulsion to steal these things. I would like my clients to pay me for my efforts, so I do unto others, etcetera.

  5. Educational pricing for their products is a godsend–it was edu pricing combined with an enormous tax refund (the kind you get for moving 1200 miles for a job) that brought CS3 within reach. It was a tremendous feeling, getting that download, and there’s been a kind of amortized peace of mind by not worrying if/when the trojan packed into the cracked copy will begin rooting through my files.

  6. I could have written that piece!

    I started my own web design business as a freelancer in october, and bought CS3 in mid-december from the first money I got. Boy, that’s a great feeling to be finally able to buy that stuff.

  7. With the grants students are given in the UK (very little) even with the educational pricing for Photoshop and Quark I still couldn’t afford them, so as a student I had to make do with pirate software. And if anything went wrong with it I had to figure it out myself as I couldn’t just call them up to sort it out.

    I fully expected that once I got a job all companies would have legitimate software…and I’m shocked. I know very few medium sized businesses (and I’m talking Б1m turnover a year and upwards) who are buying software! I have to badger my current employer to buy software and tell them I’m not prepared to put up with shoddy copies ruining my Mac and my work any more. Luckily it has worked – I appreciate small companies just may not be able to afford it in the first year or so, but larger companies have no excuse.

  8. One Friday I was in a position where I just had to develop a Flash game, and I’d never touched Flash before so I decided I had to take CS3 home with me. It was only when I got back that I realised

    A) CS works on the basis of registration — it was installed and registered at work and I wouldn’t be able to save any work I made at home

    B) I’d just spent 20 minutes in a weakened thin frame walking through bustling public areas with Б1.5k of software in a translucent plastic bag

    I used to use cracked software too. It’s not that I can afford my own personal copy now, it’s just that I can’t afford the time, and I don’t want to either. I think I left all that illegal sharing behind with my teenage years.

    I’m still not paying for my copy of EmEditor until I’m out of my overdraft 🙂

  9. “It’s just too time consuming. Who has time to do that?”

    Yeah, sure…well, I got enough time to save $5500 (this is Euroland baby) in software. And it feels great, it always feels like I saved $5500 in software…

  10. Even if pirated software is exactly the same binary digits as the legitimate copy, it always feels a little bit dirty on my beloved Mac. As well as the legal obligations of only paying for what you use, you’re right, Khoi, it’s the emotional sense of ownership that really makes you feel good.

    I used to download music faster than I could listen to it back in the days when Broadband first hit the scene. But now, I’m earning a little bit more cash and I actually pay for all the music in my collection (still downloads, but legitimate ones). I listen to it and enjoy it more because I was willing to part with my money because I really wanted it in the first place.

    Good article.

  11. I currently have a pirated copy of CS3 running on my mac. As a student and apprentice at a web design company I just simply can’t afford to pay the prices that they are asking for it at the moment.
    However, I am slowly purchasing my software and have recently bought a copy of Textmate, which felt really good 🙂

    If I had the money, I would definitely buy it, but as Nic said in an earlier comment, its a catch 22 situation.

  12. Been there, still not out of it yet, but working at it. Luckily my employer buys software.

    Sub-CS3 solutions might be cheaper, but I can’t imagine anyone getting a career going on sub-optimal software, only to have to learn CS3 from scratch when they can finally afford it.

  13. I’m a student in India. I wanted to purchase CS3 academic version.

    When I called Adobe, they informed me that they no longer sell academic copies in India. I mean, these companies keep complaining about piracy in India, but when someone actually is willing to purchase such expensive software, they won’t sell it to me???

    Anyway, I had a friend buy me a copy from the US, as I didn’t want to use pirated software, but also cannot afford to purchase a full commercial version. The academic version is expensive enough.

  14. Spot on, Mr. Vinh. My experience is similar, adding this caveat: I’ve made it a rule of thumb that if I make money off of a product, I try to pay for it. For example, CS is my bread and butter, so that gets paid for. Flash, Final Cut, etc, are more for hobby/exploration, so I don’t feel bad about those being pirated copies on my drives. You’re right, though: it IS a good feeling to see your own name on a registration field. . . .

    That being said, CS in particular is very expensive. While my first bought copy of CS was CS2, if it hadn’t been for educatinal pricing, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it at the time, and the only reason I bought a full copy of CS3 was that, like Aden, I had a tax refund windfall around the time it came out.

    As for other types of lisenced content, well, it depends on the provenance. Music from the big labels I feel no compunctions about copying. After all, why should I pay overcompensated middlemen for music, in order to subsidize their greedy, litligious lifestyles? Indie music, or pay schemes where I know for a fact that the money goes directly to the musician, I happily pay for.

  15. In Argentina the Adobe Design Premium pack costs 11000 AR$ (pesos), that is more or less, 3000 u$s while in Adobe oficial web it costs less than 2000 u$s.

    Think this: a very well paid starter freelance designer here is getting u$s 600 per month! for a living, a full-time highschool teacher here is paid around uSs250 per month, our president and other high charge politicians: u$s2000.
    Now, why do europe and south america have to pay double? How much would really cost this non-perfect-buggy-cpu-and-ram-demanding software with a 30% of total gain for adobe (more or less as all the others markets products/services have here).

    Worst than that: have we other choice to study/begin to work seriously?

    I┤d love to buy my own copy, just like would love to have a real mac instead of this frankeistein running the only OS that lets me just work, but i still don┤t get in organs or cocain traffic so…

    excuse me for the worst-ever english demo

  16. I love the warm and cozy feeling that buying software gives me – if I feel that the price is reasonable and the money goes to a company I respect. That is why I’ll never pay for Adobe CS3.

  17. Reminds me of other industry standard software that costs an exorbitant amount of money for students and other less-than-rich folk.

    I often wonder if they’d just lower prices, would enough decent-but-poor people buy them?

    I have to believe the companies in question have had economists look at the pricing structure in depth. Right?

  18. Same here. As a self-taught web developer (as many of us are) there’s no way I would be where I am today without pirated software. I would not have been able to make the portfolio that got me the job. And now that I have the job, I buy my software.

  19. I bought the student version of Adobe Cs2 a year and a half ago when I absolutely needed it for two classes which demanded intense work in Photoshop and Flash. That was $200, and I ate ramen for a month or two because of it (and jacked up my student loans, but those are so through-the-roof it barely affected it).

    Lo and behold, this year I have another class demanding lots of Flash work. And guess what? Now we’re doing everything in ActionScript 3, and my Cs2 is useless. And my video editing class? Well, it turns out I didn’t get the Creative Suite, just the Creative Expensive Room, which doesn’t happen to have Premier in it.

    I managed to get away with the class by learning Flex and using the Adobe AIR beta SDK for a semester – but really, I can’t afford to buy a new Creative Suite every year and half, and especially not on a student budget. I hope once I graduate this year I can afford all the software I need to do my job, but in school that just isn’t possible.

  20. While I certainly understand the reasoning behind getting legit software…time isn’t a good reason. Finding torrents on line takes all of 15 minutes, particularly for Adobe software.

  21. Your feelings are typical of most everyone who takes this profession seriously. When you get older, you don’t only get more mature – your free time becomes increasingly scarcer and therefore more valuable, and you finally realize paying for the stuff you use is the “right thing” to do, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    That said, going legit is too often out of the question for people in third world countries such as the one I live in. An Adobe CS Design Premium License can easily account for roughly 4 months’ salary of an average professional worker. This practically ensures that piracy runs rampant, even at the highest corporate levels.

    Some years ago I had a talk with a very influent U.S. web developer about this, and his answer was more or less along the lines of “If you can’t pay it, then you shouldn’t use it”. Sorry, that genie is long out of the bottle. In this age where everything becomes global, discriminating users because they can’t afford your piece of mega-expensive software won’t work wonders for your PR. Unfortunately, we’ve become used to a pricing scheme in software that is plain and simply out of touch with what emerging economies can afford. If CS could be legally obtained for $100, for instance, I think the piracy rate would not only be much lower, but also companies like Adobe would rake in much more money for the scale factor alone, recouping all those sales that would otherwise be lost to piracy. But odds are higher of hell freezing over than hoping for that to happen.

  22. I have to say that the biggest thing that turned me from pirate to patron was my adoption of the Mac platform. It’s not that there aren’t pirated copies of Mac software out there, it’s that somehow your attachment to the computer transfers into an attachment for the software developers. I feel good when I ship somebody their hard-earned $24.95, the same way I do when I buy pizza from a local joint (Rocco’s or Capri) instead of a chain.

    Also, the development of the web over the last few years has really trimmed down my need for software. Between the large number of high quality open source apps and the fact that I can do most of my work with a browser, a text editor and a terminal, I don’t need a million software packages.

  23. @Beto. I agree absolutely. I’ve pretty much followed the path laid out by Khoi (also currently in the “let my employer buy it” stage and also went through an “academic pricing” stage) … but if I could get the whole suite for @Beto. I agree absolutely. I’ve pretty much followed the path laid out by Khoi (also currently in the “let my employer buy it” stage and also went through an “academic pricing” stage) … but if I could get the whole suite for <= $150 I'd probably buy every new version for personal use (rather than wait for an employer buy or a "friends" copy to show up).

  24. I would go so far as to say that software piracy built the computer-enabled design industry that we know today. I’ve never known anyone who didn’t build their Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, etc… chops on borrowed software. If every person had to drop $500+ just to get started with Photoshop, The Gimp would be the industry standard–no doubt.

  25. You are quite correct. It’s a good feeling. But I have to say, dollar for dollar, I feel great buying a $29 Mac shareware app. Spending well over a thousand dollars on Adobe software doesn’t quite give me such a warm fuzzy feeling. I personally would love to see them break apart their bundles, and sell each app for $200 – not $600!

  26. Here in Panama piracy rate is also high. Software companies have retaliated with lawyers and lawsuits, but always aimed at the big companies. I have yet to see action against the little guys.

    That makes me think the big companies know that although piracy is an issue, it is also piracy that fuels the design world with kids starting out with Photoshop versions downloaded through bit torrents.

    I also think that if a small company came with a simple image software for 29.99 USD, I would gladly buy it. I think that I only use the same 8 or 9 functions of PS for my web designs. For many projects I have done without it, relying instead on The Gimp and Nvu. I always found it strange most designers don’t support Open Source Software more, as opposed to web developers using Rails, PHP, Perl, etc.

  27. Who has time to do that? Well, I would take me about one hour to get the whole suite down to my HD. A better question would be: who has time to sit by and watch the Adobe programs install?

  28. I am a long-time software pirate, but also still in the phase of my career where I don’t even come close to being able to afford even all the CS3 apps I use! Add onto that Final Cut, Logic, C4D, etc, and we’re easily getting to the $6-8000 range, all on top of having to shell out $2-3 grand for a new computer every 2-3 years just to be able to run this stuff. CRAZY. I would love to have legal copies, but I’ve also got to pay my rent.

    Okay, so here’s the thing: If they charged, say, $500 for the CS3 master suite instead of $2500, I would totally buy it. 100%. My hypothesis is that a lot of other people would also switch over to owning legal copies sooner if the price were more reasonable. Individuals, small and new design companies, photographers, non-design companies, high schools, non-designers, families, etc would all be more likely to buy copies. And in expanding it’s market, Adobe would make way more money, so that’s good for everyone.

  29. I find it amusing, though not really surprising, that so many commenters cite Mac fanboy smugness as their primary reason for buying their own software.

    Just one more example of the Mac users sheep mentality and conceit..

  30. You give me hope as someone still fighting through one of those not-so-admirable middle stages in the software war. I am glad there is a forgiving light at the end of a long “borrowing” tunnel.

  31. @hank: very interesting that you hear “Mac fanboy smugness” being expressed, and somehow take it a “proof” of “Mac users sheep mentality”.

    What I hear is Mac owners extending their sense of personal identity to include their computers, and therefore shouldering the weight of piracy in an immediately personal way. Not so surprising when you consider how much time & energy out of our lives we all pour into them on a daily basis, and maybe it happens more with Mac owners because the experience of using our Macs feels so close to transparent, much like using one’s hand or foot.

    What you’re reading as sheep mentality is the tendency of most people to want to do the right thing. People don’t want to have to think of themselves as stealing or cheating. People, on the whole, are looking for ways to live decent, upstanding lives, and there is a burden to going against our inner conscience. I count almost no one crowing about beating the system here, but plenty of folks expressing relief at finally being in a financial position where they can cross back over to the citizen in good standing side of the street vis a vis Adobe.

    I’m still back with CS & Studio MX 2004 because I just can’t afford the upgrade on the combined CS3 package. But I was ecstatic to be able to afford such a great tool like TextMate and paid for my license within a week of trying it out. How fabulous to not have to agonize about how to finance it! And I think it’s pretty telling when an Adobe/Macromedia customer like myself, who’s spent the big bucks already, is willing to learn to code directly (albeit with a fantastic tool like TextMate) as an alternative to buying an upgrade, because I just can’t afford it.

    I’ve long felt that Adobe would make far more money if they would bring their pricing down to human scale. I can’t imagine that for every legitimate Adobe customer there aren’t hundreds of folks waiting off to the side for their own opportunity to become fully paid up software owners as well. Maybe there will come a time where there is enough great shareware alternatives that people will be able to make a living/get a job using software they can fully afford from the get go. For now though, professionally you need to be able to work Adobe’s product line, and at the current prices many people are left with hard choices they’d rather not have to make.

  32. I did not read every single comment, but you guys do know that educational versions cannot be used for commercial work right? As far as affordability, I bought a sealed copy of Photoshop 4.0 on ebay, registered it and then upgraded from there and got Photoshop for around $300.00. That was back when 6.0 first came out. I did the same thing with Illustrator and Indesign. Being a dinosaur, there was no “Creative Suite” when I went legal.

  33. Andy, I did almost the same thing. Bought PSD 5.0 (what a steaming pile that was), upgraded to 5.5, then to CS, then to CS3 via an obscure cross-platform upgrade option (I had to sign a form saying that I would destroy my Windows CS discs as soon as I installed my copy of CS3 on OSX). Saved me a ton of cash being on the upgrade path.

  34. This all rings very true. For those still in transition, there is an intermediate way that I have followed: I paid for the upgrade to CS3 from a cracked copy of CS1.

    This lets me feel good about giving Adobe $700 or so (web premium suite plus InDesign), which feels like a “fair” price, while still saving me a lot over a full license. It’s all an exercise in rationalization, I know, but at least they have me now as an upgrader for as long as I’m doing this kind of work. By the time I upgrade to CS4, they’ll have made as much money from me as if I had just bought a full CS4 from scratch. Again, rationalization, but at least its *truthy*.

  35. Not unique at all friend. I just did the same thing last fall. When I bought Leopard (that alone was a big step I actually bought an OSX upgrade!) formatted my macbook and purchased CS3 Design Premium. It is real sense of accomplishment. For over seven years I’ve been working freelance or for employers. I always had the latest version of Adobe products despite my employer being a few licenses back, something didn’t add up 😉 It’s good to be legit 🙂

  36. I’ll join in with the Education pricing being glorious. The week I graduated I purchased CS1 to start things out legit (knowing I’d eventually need it for my own business down the road). Then this summer, CS3 was an upgrade rather than a new license.

    As 2008 rolls around, my new business is here, and I’m honest in my ownership. It’s tasty.

  37. I’m proud to say that I’m also a legal owner of all of my software now. OS X Leopard, CS3, etc.

    However, like many (most?) above, it wasn’t always so. Like Khoi in particular, I had stacks of CD’s years ago. It was “cool”. Now? Not so much.

    Also, like someone above also mentioned, I couldn’t afford it until recently.

    But I’ve bought it and I’m absolutely fine with that. Apple, Adobe and others make such great stuff that I like supporting them.

  38. You are SO right! Khoi, I used to do exactly as you did. Often, I’d be the ‘supplier’ of such info as installers or keys and seirals. No more friends! If you want ‘support’ and applications, please just purchase, especially if you use it professionally. It does take far too much time to hack software and even more time (and karma points) helping others do the same. Last year I finally started telling clients and friends that should they want help from me, it would installing and maintaining legit applications.

  39. Adobe CS license does allow for a copy to be on a secondary computer, this means I can legally install my licensed copy from work on my laptop at home, so long as I am not using them at the same time. This makes a lot of sense, sometimes I will be working from home, and I hardly want to drag my work computer back and forth all the time.
    Problem is, I use a PC at work, and a Mac at home, and for some inexplicable reason the license isn’t valid cross-platform.

    Adobe doesn’t seem to encourage the legitimate purchasing of their software, they have a monopoly on a market that they price people out of entering. How is one supposed to learn the software they are required to know to enter a market and get a job to pay for that software?

  40. I also am totally self-taught (thanks to Paradox), and have taken the road to legality. I would say that it feels good to “own” my software – but really, as the terms of license so eloquently state, I don’t own it. You know, technically, even buying an educational version and using it when you are not a student violates the terms of its license. I personally couldn’t feel content knowing that what I was doing was still illegal. I agree that the best option is to buy a legal older version and purchase the upgrade to save the cash.

    I can’t help but mention here that I’m a happy PC user. I love Macs too though – too bad there isn’t pirated copies of a shiny new Macbook Bro that I could “borrow” until I could afford to go “legal”.

    Great post!

  41. I’ve always seen this question in microeconomic terms. Remember supply curves and demand curves?

    Two points come to mind:

    1. If the monetary cost is too high, then people who are not willing to pay the monetary cost will pay some quantity of non-monetary costs.

    Non-monetary costs might mean standing in long lines for clearance sales. It also might mean accepting the ethical peccadillo of pirating software.

    2. If a manufacturer wishes to maximize its return, it will find a way to make a sale to everyone who wants to buy, charging high prices to the people who are willing to pay, and offering discounts to those who are not willing.

    This is the reason behind market segmentation. It gives us things like educational discounts, the premium charged for iPods of certain colors, and the factory outlet phenomenon.

    My memory’s rusty, but the principles hold.

    What does this mean for software? That the greatest good arises if the people who cannot or will not pay for software at full prices still obtain that software at lower prices – or at a high non-monetary price, like the ethical costs of software piracy.

    Some software companies realize this. Look, for instance, at Bare Bones, with BBEdit and the free TextWrangler. It is also the reason behind Adobe’s quite-generous educational software discounts. When I was a student, I bought the whole of Creative Suite for about $300. The trouble is that Adobe falls down in overseas markets and for young designers.

  42. When I switched to using OSX fulltime at the house, I also switched to buying all of the shareware and software I use, however, Adobe products are the only thing i haven’t purchased, so instead, I use shareware or freeware alternatives. But it is a great feeling knowing that you can now be legal and support the hardworking men and women that produce the software we use to make our living.

  43. And if you think buying for yourself is costly, try buying for a small design studio! Wow – THAT is expensive! But we are legit, even if it took us a while. We wanted to be legit right from the beginning, but… when you are scraping by for years, it can be difficult.

  44. It’s funny. I had the trial version on my home computer but after a while I simply deleted them and went back to my earlier version. It didn’t see like anything had improved all that much.

  45. I think you are right. I am almost there, for Creative Suite, but for other software packages I am able to get them and not care about price anymore. I am also able to get the student-priced CS3 package, and yes it feels good.

  46. Back when I was in art school I used illegal copies of Photoshop, Quark etc. – all of my classmates did, most of us couldn’t possibly afford to buy the software. Later, after I started my own company, I bought all of it. And yes, it felt good.
    However, I’m really angry with Adobe for not allowing cross-platform upgrades. I’m using a pc in my studio and thanks to Adobe I’ll never be able to switch to a Mac. I don’t really want to switch right now, but still… this really isn’t the way to breed happy and loyal customers.

  47. Thanks for making a public point of this. I find myself frequently taking a stand against piracy. Often when I need some new software I’ll hear offer from coworkers around the office who want to let me “borrow” their discs. No one seems to understand why I would refuse either. (The same goes for movies and music as well, of course.) The value of a clear conscience is underestimated. Thanks for “coming out” about this on your blog. I’d love to see more high profile figures do the same on this topic.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.