Early this week we decided it was time to update our aging copy of Photoshop to the latest version – Photoshop CS4 Extended – but balked at the RRP (around £800).  A quick search of the usual outlets proved there were some savings to be made, including several on eBay and a couple of Amazon Resellers.[more]

Knowing that Amazon would provide their usual high level of customer service if we ran into problems we chanced a Reseller with good feedback and handed over nearly £250.00.

Now, that’s clearly a heck of saving, but still proper money – certainly 95% of all software is cheaper than £250 so whilst we were slightly suspicious we had high hopes.  How naive.

The package arrived two days later and initial impressions were excellent, it was shrink wrapped, looked right, used good quality paper and had a custom box (see pic on left).  An un-boxing video on YouTube proved the contents were right too.

The software also installed smoothly and activated without any drama (more on that later).  I was 90% sure we’d snapped a bargain when I had a good look at two of the pamphlets in the box – the print quality was horrible, terrible gradients and blurry text (see pic below).  It was very hard to imagine Adobe would allow this through their quality control, especially with the price of Photoshop being what it is.

Since there was no absolute way to be sure I called Adobe Customer Service on 0207 365 0733 and quoted the serial number.  Guess what?  We’d just paid £250 for a Torrent download in a pretty box.

Knowing that we had a counterfeit copy I took another look at the packaging and the discs, and with the exception of those pamphlets it was incredibly good.  Arguably they could have used higher quality ink (the blue rubbed off onto the grey inner box in many places) but the attention to detail is unbelievable, with light Adobe logos in all the right places, appropriate stickers, screen printed DVD’s etc.

How To Tell 

So how to tell for sure?  To cheat the Adobe activation system this pirate copy made an amendment to our TCP/IP HOSTS file upon installation – all the proof you could possibly need.  If you open your hosts file (file locations here) you’ll see two new lines: practivate.adobe.com

These essentially deprive the PC of access to those websites by forcing the connection attempt back to your PC, creating an Internet dead-end.

We were lucky – we were suspicious and got a refund.  There must be a large number of people out there who had good quality printing throughout their box, or didn’t want to look a gift-horse in the mouth, who will only discover they paid hundreds of pounds for a worthless copy when they need Adobe support or want to (legitimately) upgrade to the newest version.  Given the number of these packages that are currently on eBay this must be widespread.

I don’t have much sympathy for Adobe here.  By pricing the software well above £500 they have created this market.  It must have cost a fair bit of money to make such an accurate copy of the Photoshop packaging, but the reason a factory will choose to do so is simple – there is an opening for selling this software at £100-£400 – a massive profit for those involved.  If Adobe charged £200, maybe this market would not exist, and we’d have bought directly from Adobe – probably as a digital download, the most profitable transaction they can have.

The saddest part is that many of the purchasers of this counterfeit software are “trying to do the right thing” – as opposed to stealing it from a torrent site.  They end up with an illegal, hacked copy, and a long line of criminals making a easy buck off of them, probably leading right back to China.

UPDATE: 16/02/2010- Windows 7

I have heard that on Windows 7, by default, there isn’t enough authority for the installation program to modify the Hosts file, leaving communication with the Adobe “mothership” wide open.  The result is that on first run the serial number will be dis-approved and CS4 will no longer run on that PC, at least with the supplied serial number.  I assume Adobe secrete something in the registry but I haven’t looked any deeper.   At this point I guess it’s pretty obvious your copy is a fake!  Does anyone have any experience of this?