RIP, Photoshop Pirating
I have a confession: when I was a child, I pirated software. I began pirating Photoshop from version 2.0, 1991 or so, on. I would use those bit-by-bit binary disk duplicating apps, with two 3.5” floppy drives attached to a Mac. I never read a manual. I taught myself Photoshop by patiently going through every single menu item and palette option and figuring out what it does. I did this for many apps. They were all pretty easy to copy, except one QuarkXPress. That one took some real technical know-how to copy.
In 1993, after graduating from college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I went back to Alaska for a while, worked at the airport, thus fulfilling my childhood dreams of getting to play around on baggage carousels and doing that flag wavy thing with airplanes. I worked at the radio station. In 1994, when my sister was going to Boston to attend Northeastern university I went back with her.
By then, I was a full blown software pirate. To be clear, I’d copy, and trade, and give away, but I never sold it. I never profited by it. We copied it, passed it around, and learned the software. I learned Photoshop, Quark, Premiere, Bryce KPT, Newtek Lightwave, and many other software apps. Music apps - Opcode Vision and StudioVisio (another notoriously tricky app to copy), Protools, Cakewalk, etc. Oh and fonts. I was obsessed with fonts. I had a collection of some 10,000+ fonts. If a font existed, I had it.
In the eyes of the software industry, I was a thief. In their eyes, I probably “stole” tens of thousands of dollars of software from them.
But, then, in 1994, a funny thing happened. I went to a little company in Harvard Square called MacTemps. I took two tests, one in Photoshop, one in Quark. I passed them both, only missing a single question across the 50 or so tasks in each app (the question I missed involved the conversion between picas to points, something I’ve never forgotten since). They instantly placed me into a page layout job, at Bank of Boston, and from there I began an illustrious career with MacTemps, which grew into the massive staffing company Aquent Partners (who later became a client of mine). They placed me in a series of increasingly rewarding jobs, first at banks, then in audit, then in creative studios. Eventually I left them for a while, took a full time job at Ernst & Young, learned the web (mostly on pirated software), and then went back and started a prepress company with some friends inside a larger media company. Then I went back to Aquent, and graduated to ad agencies. From there, I started freelancing at Ad agencies, eventually taking a full time job at the prestigious agency Arnold, during its Volkswagen “Drivers Wanted” heyday.
From there, with some friends, I started my own agency. And at that agency, the first thing I did was - get this - I TOOK OUT A LOAN to lease $2,500 of Adobe software - Photoshop and Flash (which I had also learned through piracy). Our $2,500 purchase grew through the years, and my last negotiation for a company-wide site license for Adobe amounted to somewhere around $50,000 per version.
So, by my calculation, I have now personally overseen the procurement of well over $250,000 of Adobe software through the years. Software I learned through piracy. Piracy that gave me a career.
As Emma and I were sitting here catching up on the day’s events, we discussed today’s new announcements from Adobe about Adobe Photoshop CC. The upgrade looks pretty good, and Emma enjoys downloading Photoshop on a subscription plan, which works with her full time job as a designer. It’s easy - money comes in, she spends a small amount to stay up to date, and it works for her.
For me, however, it doesn’t work. I still love Photoshop, and like to use it all the time, but I don’t want to pay a monthly fee for it. I am a casual user now. I’m a well off-casual user. and I’m sure I’d go impulse buy Photoshop through the app store or something, but i can’t countenance a monthly fee for something I use once a month.
But more than that, the new cloud-only, subscription only Photoshop will, of course, be incredibly hard to pirate. I’ve read the forums, there’s a chance they can pull it all off with a virtual server blah blah blah, and maybe that’s just as complex as bit-by-bit hacker-made copy apps were in 1989, but it seems to me that the era of pirated Photoshop may well be coming to an end.
Both of us learned Photoshop on pirated software, yet in the end, we both became wildly profitable customers for Adobe. Ironically, Photoshop itself also eventually became a client of mine, as I lead my old firm’s work with Adobe on Photoshop Express.
But I wonder how the next suburban 15 year old nerd will learn Photoshop. I guess they’ll become GIMP Jockeys. Sad.