Unveiling the Trap: How Adobe's Subscription Policy Landed It in Legal Troubles

While computerized tools have become indispensable to the creative process, Adobe – the maker of Photoshop, Illustrator, and other programs that have become part of a ‘trade tool’ to many a digital artist – has had to defend itself against one of the biggest lawsuits of the new millennium, based on an FTC referral to the US government that accuses Adobe of ‘unlawful coercion’. The piece is an examination of how Adobe’s ‘annual, paid monthly’ (APM) subscription plan practice, which is at the heart of the court case, allegedly operates by trickery.

The Bait: Adobe's APM Plan Unveiled

For PROs who use Adobe’s suite of programs – including Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Acrobat Pro, and many others – the company frames APM as a flexible option. But the US contends that Adobe cloaks the real deal with a veneer of opacity, requiring the unassuming consumer to hunt for crucial terms like the ETF deep in the fine print.

The Hidden Handcuffs: Unraveling Adobe's ETF Strategy

That’s how it starts, in most cases: with a mouse-click on the irresistible ‘See plan and pricing details’. Professional users want Photoshop and other tools, not ETF details – which is why Adobe has placed this ‘i’ icon (an innocuous, classic internet communications device) in a labyrinth, its maze rigged with tripwires. It seems many are not solving that particular ETF-icon puzzle. The US complaint calls it a ‘bait and switch’. The government advertises a subscription with one price and another much higher price at the end. It is designed to catch those who foolishly try to cancel.

The Struggle to Break Free: Canceling Adobe’s Chains

Customers who want to cut ties with Adobe’s services embark on a journey, the US claims – it says the process of actually leaving is ‘onerous’, and that Adobe sets up ‘barriers’ deterring users from escaping Adobe’s embrace. Adobe does this, the US alleges, so that you’ll keep paying, which amounts to a ‘deceptive and unfair act or practice,’ and – among other things – violates a number of consumer-protection laws.

The Quest for Justice: The U.S. Strikes Back

Far from being a simply a case of violated consumers seeking monetary damages, the litigation is aimed at forcing Adobe to revamp what the government suggests is a deceptive business practice. In its lawsuit, the US government has taken a stand against corporate giants blamed for taking advantage of consumers through unfairly opaque contracts.

Adobe's Defense: A Battle Cry for Clarity

However, given the severity of those charges, Adobe digs in, and is still pushing the virtues of the subscription model. ‘As the FTC’s case against us shows,’ says Dana Rao, Adobe’s general counsel and chief trust officer, ‘we’re committed to transparency and producing happy customers. We make it easy to cancel your subscription and offer flexible subscription pricing options.’ Adobe says they look forward to fighting the charges in court.

Adobe’s Legal Labyrinth: A PRO Perspective

This legal saga offers creative PROs who use Adobe’s family of software a simple lesson in the hazards of the digital dark ages. Its allegations serve as a wake-up call to anybody using a long-term agreement with a software provider. It underscores that – in the long run – buyers need to understand exactly what they’re signing on for.

Unlocking the PRO Perspective on Adobe's Legal Challenge

Adobe’s dilemma highlights a fundamental lesson for all PROs: the devil is in the detail. For those of us who rely on Photoshop, Premiere Pro and so on, our best course is to be diligent: this legal drama reminds PROs to fight for transparency and fairness, making sure the toolkits we rely on are powerful – and packaged by terms that aren’t hostile to our liberty and choice.

Explaining PRO

The ‘pro’ in ‘pro photo’ refers to professional users and serious enthusiasts who use Adobe’s creative software to earn a living or to do major side projects. It is these folks – the photography professionals, for example, who use Lightroom Pro to process and distribute their images – who need the more sophisticated features and capabilities found only in the premium subscription plans that, according to Adobe’s stated plan for the future, they must buy. Graphic designers, photographers, and filmmakers, digital artists: these are the creative professional whose work – and whose grievances – lie at the center of the legal battle over Adobe’s subscription policy.

Jun 18, 2024
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