Here at the Public Knowledge blog, it is often our duty to act as the bearer of bad news. When big content, the telecom industry and government agencies overlook the needs of consumers, technology users and content creators, it’s our job to sound the alarm. Today, however, we’ve got a refreshing breath of fresh air for you: a real-life story of a few Davids going up against a Silicon Valley Goliath and walking away victorious.
Just two weeks ago, Adobe launched its long-awaited Photoshop Express service: a web-based application that allows users to access some of the most popular features in the company’s Adobe Photoshop software for free. Many in the blogosphere applauded this move, as it allows a wide-range of users to perform simple image-editing tasks without having to shell out $800 or more for a hard copy of Adobe Photoshop. As a few eagle-eyed blog commenters would discover, however, a free lunch is still worthy of scrutiny, even in the post-Google era.
On the 27th, the day of Photoshop Express’ release, a number of tech blogs published write-ups on the software going live. What many of these articles failed to mention, however, is that users were required to cede some of their rights in order to use the software. Luckily, a few eagle-eyed commenters (like “ltcmurray” at popular gadget blog Gizmodo) took the time to dig through the software’s Terms of Service (TOS) and discovered this little tidbit: apparently, by using the service, users were implicitly granting Adobe “a worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, derive revenue or other remuneration from, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display” their images. Given that the service is aimed at casual users looking to touch up personal photos (i.e. your Grandma), the clause seemed especially sinister.
While the story was not widely publicized, Adobe was quick to respond, in the form of a post on the blog of senior product manager, John Nack. “We’ve heard your concerns about the terms of service for Photoshop Express beta. We reviewed the terms in context of your comments — and we agree that it currently implies things we would never do with the content,” Nack wrote. “Therefore, our legal team is making it a priority to post revised terms that are more appropriate for Photoshop Express users.” Nack has since posted those revised terms on his blog and according to Gizmodo, the new TOS takes effect on April 10th.
Why is this story noteworthy? Well, there are a number of reasons. First and foremost, it demonstrates the importance of reading end user license agreements when using web-based applications: unless you’ve read the TOS, you never know what rights you might be ceding as a content author. Secondly, it demonstrates the speed at which information like this moves—and the importance of firing off a similarly quick response. To its credit, Adobe was plugged-in enough that it could sense a blogosphere backlash brewing and beat it off at the pass. The company would have been swimming in bad PR had the story made the front pages but given its swift response, Adobe now looks awfully consumer-friendly. Finally, the story serves as a reminder for companies who might not review their end user license agreements as closely as they should. <a href=”http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080329-adobe-joins-list-of-companies-not-reading-own-eulas.html”>As Ars Technica reminds us, this isn’t the first time that a major software company was caught unaware of the contents of its own TOS–and it probably won’t be the last.
Regardless, Public Knowledge salutes both the valiant blog readers who caught the hidden clause and Adobe for their appropriate and timely response. As we’re seeing, at the quickly emerging crossroads between user-generated content and web-based applications, you can never be too careful where your rights are concerned.