Software licensing audits are a standard practice for many software vendors. There was a time when they occurred primarily when the vendor had reason to suspect a customer of non-compliance, but randomly conducted audits have become increasingly common as vendors look for new ways to maximize revenue. Virtually all software licenses contain language granting the vendor audit rights, and the cost is typically incurred by the customer unless the findings reveal that they customer is almost completely compliant, so there is very little risk to the vendor. That seemingly simple source of revenue is what makes Adobe®’s recent change in policy so surprising.
It comes as no surprise that the policy change was enacted without fanfare, but Adobe is ending their traditional audit methods! That’s not to suggest that they have abandoned the practice of ensuring that customers are licensing Adobe software appropriately, but it does introduce a practice which is arguably less disruptive.
According to the Adobe website, Adobe now runs validation tests to check for software tampering and invalid licenses. Adobe’s “Software Integrity Service” analyzes applicable products and notifies the user, via pop-up, if their copy is not genuine. The part I find particularly interesting is that according to the FAQ on the website, the only consequence of continuing to use the unauthorized software is that the user will continue to receive the notification pop-up until they rectify the situation.
This is a significant departure from the way most vendors validate compliance. Rather than demanding a self-assessment or third party inspection, Adobe is introducing technology to check for non-compliance. When unauthorized usage is discovered, most vendors require the offending user to purchase a legitimate copy, whereas Adobe will simply nag them with continuous pop-ups. I also find it interesting that the offending user will continue to receive product updates even once the non-compliance is discovered!
The notification pop-ups only apply to Adobe Acrobat® X today, but the validation element is also included with Adobe Creative®, so it’s likely the notifications will be expanded to Creative customers as well.
It will be interesting to see if other software venders follow Adobe’s example. Allowing non-compliant users to continue receiving updates and imposing no consequence beyond continuous pop-up notifications seems more liberal than necessary, but relying more heavily upon technical automation to monitor compliance would seem less invasive and potentially more accurate than traditional audit methods.