Creatives’ ire could spark real competition for Adobe

Cracks have appeared in the graphics giant’s monopoly as users balk at the fine print, says Jason Walsh
Image: Tim Gouw via Pexels

10 June 2024

Back when I was in art school I remember having very positive feelings about Adobe, whose Photoshop application I taught myself, rather awkwardly, I admit. The sentiment was far from uncommon: among the few of us fine art students who ever bothered to look at computers, the possibilities offered by this piece of software seemed endless.

Today, the picture is a little different. Adobe’s subscription model, something many welcomed at first, has come to feel exploitative, and online grumbling about it is not hard to find. Beyond that, there has also been concern about the company’s  power over the creative industries.

Adobe has bested competitors (Quark) and swallowed others (Macromedia) until it had a virtual monopoly on all aspects of image editing, layout and publishing. 




That is not to say no-one has ever spied a gap in the market. Niche alternatives came and went, such as Stone Studio, MLayout and the open source effort Inkscape, but it is only in recent years that alternatives such as Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher have gained traction.

Video editing is really the only area of visual creation where there was still serious competition. As a result, it was recently barred from gobbling-up design software rival Figma, a relative minnow popular with Web designers.

Some designers, or so I read anyway, are even taking a second look at Quark. If this growth occurred due to frustration with the Californian graphics software giant then we can expect more growth in the sector following its latest land grab.

An online kerfuffle began last week, kicking-off on social network X (formerly Twitter) when it was discovered that a terms of service update turned out to give Adobe the right to scan documents users saved on its cloud servers.

Adobe’s legalese reserved the right to scan stored documents in “limited ways, and only as permitted by law”, and included the right to use “techniques such as machine learning in order to improve our services and software and the user experience”.

Unsurprisingly, given growing concern over the AI companies vacuuming-up every byte of data they can find, alarm bells started to ring. However, the company’s boilerplate terms were old news: Adobe has long given itself the right to scan what users save on its servers.

Responding to the outrage in a blog post, Adobe said it does not nick its users’ work to train AI models.

The response was actually a model of clarity, saying: “Adobe does not train Firefly Gen AI models on customer content. Firefly generative AI models are trained on a dataset of licensed content, such as Adobe Stock, and public domain content where copyright has expired”.

It goes on: “Adobe will never assume ownership of a customer’s work. Adobe hosts content to enable customers to use our applications and services. Customers own their content and Adobe does not assume any ownership of customer work”.

This does pose a question: if Adobe does not intend to consume its users’ creations, why bother giving itself such broad rights of access?

More interesting, to me at least, is that the irate response of creatives suggests there really is more room for competition in the creative software segment than anyone would have thought. That can only be a good thing.

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