Activation as a Business Decision

Activation as a Business Decision.

a software publisher finds that 30 percent of its customers are trying
to make illegal copies, does that justify implementing copy protection?
Adobe officials think so, and as a business decision, it sounds like it
might be awfully hard to argue with them. Nonetheless, I think I will.

I've been learning a number of things about Adobe's anti piracy practices in the weeks since I wrote about
a reader who found his RAID array wouldn't work with Acrobat 7's
product activation. To its credit, Adobe takes problems like this
seriously. They were anxious to find out who the reader was so they
could isolate the issue, as well as providing him with an
activation-free CD. “The information we were able to gather with your
reader's help was very valuable, and it appears that one specific RAID
controller is involved,” said Drew McManus, director of worldwide
anti-piracy for Adobe. “Our (DRM) vendor, Macrovision, has provided a
fix that we are confident will address the issue.”

Of course, I've also learned from other readers that there are some
things besides RAID arrays that can cause difficulty with Acrobat or
Photoshop activation. Partitioned drives, anti-virus software, docking
stations, firewalls and Dell laptops are among the possible culprits
readers say Adobe support has identified to them. But, at least in most
cases, readers they were ultimately able to at least persuade Adobe to
send them a volume license CD if they couldn't actually solve the

As I've said before, activation problems are often support problems
in disguise, and vice versa. As Adobe gears up to include activation
with its Mac products as well as its Windows offerings, McManus says
the company has made a major investment in the infrastructure to keep
the problems to a minimum. The company treats activation like another
product, with a dedicated product manager, a number of support
facilities worldwide, and development teams that customize the
Macrovision technology for Adobe's products.

“The infrastructure for this is not an insignificant investment for
us,” McManus says. “We are trying to do it the right way and not punish
the honest customers. It's important that your readers understand that
we don't see this as the be-all-and-end-all answer to software piracy.
It's true it's not a hindrance to counterfeit bootleggers.” And he
acknowledges that customers have no reason to like activation as it
stands now. “To be perfectly honest, there is no customer benefit to
activation. One of the things we have our activation team doing is
looking for ways we can change that.”

But while activation isn't the best of all possible anti-piracy
solutions, Adobe thinks it does do the job of keeping the honest
customer honest. “It is pretty effective at dealing with casual
piracy,” says McManus. “We've done several million activations now
since we started with Photoshop, and several hundred thousand with
Acrobat. The denial rate steadily averages about 30 percent, with the
rates in different countries reflecting the piracy statistics the BSA
reports in those countries.”

One could quibble that at least some of that 30 percent are legit
customers who are running into some of the problems we've heard about,
but they would doubtlessly be balanced out by additional illicit copies
that would be made if no copy protection was there at all. So let's
assume that almost one in three activations really do represent an
attempt to make an illegal copy. It's certainly easy to see how any
software executive would look at a figure like that and decide that
product activation is the only thing that makes sense from a business
point of view. But is it?

Personally, I can't shake the feeling that Adobe has made a mistake
in going this route. Is getting to deny that 30 percent really worth
the expense of building and maintaining the infrastructure to support
activation? After all, not all those who are denied activation will
turn around and buy a legitimate license, since they can get a cracked
copy if they want or just stick with what they're already using.

More importantly, activation represents an unknown potential for
loss of customer good will. Some honest customers who've upgraded in
the past will just choose not to do to avoid dealing with product
activation. How much of Adobe's considerable popularity in the Mac
community is it putting at risk if it experiences activation problems

Software companies have to make the best business decisions they
can, but so do software customers. As long as it remains true that
there is no customer benefit to activation, I think that companies are
risking their long-term future for a dubious short-term gain in
fighting piracy this way. But what do you think? Reasonable minds can
differ on an issue like this, so post your thoughts on my website and let Adobe, me, and your fellow readers know what you think is the best decision.

Read and post comments about this story here.  [Ed Foster's Radio Weblog]

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