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Adobe Tests Anti-Piracy Technique

If online-activation trial works in Australia, a rollout in the United States will follow.
Adobe Systems Inc. has begun testing online activation of its Photoshop 7.0 application in Australia as a way of stemming the illegal use of its software. If the pilot is successful, and so far it is, the developer plans to begin using software activation in the United States later this year or early next, beginning with Photoshop and then expanding to other apps.

Drew McManus, director of Adobe's anti-piracy efforts, says activation will require that customers who buy shrink-wrapped software--mainly consumers and small businesses--provide a serial number that's checked against its database, a process that takes 20 seconds or less. If the serial number is deemed legitimate, the encrypted application gets unlocked. To address privacy concerns, information on the activation server is kept separate from Adobe's product-registration and customer databases.

Larger businesses that sign enterprise contracts won't have to deal with the new process. That's because online activation can be an added burden in already complex IT environments, and because most companies don't intentionally misappropriate software anyway, says McManus. "Those companies want to be legal, but sometimes they've lost control of the situation or it's too hard to manage," he says. A future approach could involve helping IT departments use asset-management technology to better adhere to their Adobe license agreements.

Adobe has no hard statistics on how much of its software is being used illegally but offers the Business Software Alliance's estimate of 39% of commercial software as a gauge. Says McManus, "We know that Photoshop is among the most pirated software that's out there."