I am a thief.
Yes, you read that correctly. I've stolen thousands and thousands of dollars worth of products from one of the biggest names in the industry. For 8 years of my life, year after year. It happened like this:
I was in the 8th grade. I had been commissioned by my dad to pick out the absolute BEST point and shoot camera for my family’s trip to Hawaii, just 4 weeks away. I looked up all of the reviews online, and found the PERFECT (and, most stylish) camera for the best possible price at Target. We took that camera to Hawaii with us, and I practically stole the new family gadget for the entirety of the trip, shooting every possible angle and setting and scene I could of waterfalls and forests and canyons and trees and sunrises and sunsets and clouds and beaches and my family (who - bless their souls, let me do this). That trip sparked the inspiration for the images I create today and the magic I feel about the visuals of this beautiful Earth.
When I got home that trip to Hawaii, naturally, I knew I wanted to “edit” the pictures. I had seen too many amazing color-splash and multi-blur edits in my 13 years of living to contain my excitement towards finally having beautiful images to play with. Stumbleupon was a wonder. There were tutorials everywhere. I could make people float, fly; I could change hair color and put spaceships in photos and make things look like movies. Everything was exciting, and the possibilities were endless. There was just one problem… I didn’t have any editing software, and I didn’t know where to get it.
A quick google search for “Free Photoshop” led me along a string of websites with some incredibly distasteful side-bar advertisements of scantily-clad women on pages for things called “torrents.” I was too scared to try them, and I didn’t think I was tech-savvy enough to even understand how to make the software work. I opted for GIMP, a free, open source platform very similar to photoshop. But after a few months, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to take time to install extra plugins. I wanted the real deal. I wanted Photoshop (CS4 at the time). And I knew right where to get it.
"…and I had just stolen well over $1,000 worth of software."
I stayed up the entire night, the cool Autumn air trickling in to my bedroom. My young teenage mind whizzed in to the wee hours of twilight, downloading codes and searching forums and going in to the backend of the software and changing out framework files and disconnecting the updater so that it didn’t report back to Adobe. The sun rose. CS4 sprang to life on my desktop. I opened my first photo in the work frame…
…and I had just stolen well over $1,000 worth of software. And the worst part was that I didn’t feel a single negative emotion about it.
And I continued to not feel a single thing about it, for nearly a decade.
"...this is how I grew up thinking. That it was normal. That stealing was normal."
I think we’ve developed this culture in the young, artistic generation right now, especially in privileged America, and especially with a focus in digital media, that software is too expensive, and isn’t worth what anyone is asking for it. Don't get me wrong here - it's crucial that we understand that without the advancements in technology, we wouldn't be where we are right now. Maybe you’re like this, maybe you’re not. But this is how I grew up thinking. That it was normal. That stealing was normal. The advances in technology over the last decade have dramatically changed the way we view digital software. iPhone apps are either free or average around $0.99. Cheap as dirt. And when I was 13, I expected the same of Photoshop.
To be fair, many of the photographers and visual content creators I know began the baby-steps of their careers at an early age, just like I did. And when you’re 13, 14, 15 years old, Photoshop is incredibly expensive - especially when we’re talking about the mid-2000’s. I get it. I was there. I did this. I skirted the $1,000, $2,000, even $5,000 pieces of software so that I could have tools that I mostly didn’t understand how to use, but knew that I could eventually learn. I knew these tools were better, and I wanted them. So I got them any way that I could - by stealing.
The thing is, it didn’t really feel like stealing. It’s like what a friend recently said to me about when I’m “stuck in traffic” and all the cars around me are “complete assholes.” But I’m not stuck in traffic. I AM traffic. I AM the insensitive jerk who just cut someone off, even if I didn’t realize it. And like the advent of digital technology, the rise in the number of cars on the road has trickled us down to objectifying human beings - even collective, functioning family units - to a wrapped sheet of metal on wheels, painted cobalt blue. How can we expect ourselves to act any different towards the software industry?
"How can I be mad if someone uses my images without asking, if I'm using someone's software without paying?"
I know I’m not the only one with this story. And a few months ago, it hit me. I am a thief. I’ve been stealing from the absolute number-one company in digital imaging for 20 years running. How can I be mad if someone uses my images without asking, if I'm using someone's software without paying? The advances that Adobe has made for the world of visual imagery would render my entire life useless if it were non-existent. Read that again: I would not be who I am without this company’s contribution the visual arts industry. I would literally be out of a job. Maybe I’d have taken something else up, but photography is my love and passion. And I’ve been bold-faced stealing from them since I was 13 years old. That’s crazy. That’s wrong.
“You can’t build a business on lies.”
A few months ago, I took the steps necessary to stop stealing from this company. The software isn’t expensive anymore, and no, this is not a sponsored post. All throughout this, I kept hearing this one thing in the back of my mind: “You can’t build a business on lies.” I may have an amazing clientele and a glorious social media following; I could be one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet, but if I continue to torrent this software and use it in my business, then I am building that business on lies. Software and music subscription services are actually amazing now. I have a premium subscription with Spotify, and I am on the Creative Cloud Photography Plan from Adobe - if you haven't looked in to it yet, it's a great value, and part of what inspired this post. Check it out here.
This is my real life experience from stealing thousands of dollars from a company. It doesn’t matter how famous or well respected this company is, or how much money they bring in yearly. It’s stealing. I feel it. I know it.
"I believe that awareness is the first key to positive change"
What's the takeaway? I hope that my experience in this culture offers a perspective for content creators around the globe that have struggled with this, are struggling with this, or will struggle with this in the future. Our culture is growing and expanding and improving every day, and I believe that awareness is the first key to positive change.
Adobe, I am sorry I stole from you for so long. I hope this is one step in the right direction.
I'm on a mission to show that the light will always pierce through the darkness.