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Adobe clarifies vague ‘terms of use’ changes in wake of user backlash

A hot potato: Adobe is backpedaling after an update in its Terms of Use (ToU) issued last week enflamed users. The dustup started when a popup notifying users of the change suggested that the company could access and claim ownership of content made with its creative suite to train AI models, among other things.

Users were mad enough about the changes, but even more aggravating was that they could not access their projects unless they immediately agreed to the confusing new terms. Subscribers hit the company the hardest by canceling memberships. Unfortunately, Adobe charges a cancelation fee of 50 percent, proposing to reclaim the “significant” discount that annual subscriptions provide. While the penalty is enough to cause some customers to grin and bear it, others canceled on principle alone.

Self-proclaimed “wannabe YouTuber” Sasha Yanshin claims he has been an Adobe subscriber for many years but canceled his license because of the overbearing terms. He took particular issue with Adobe’s claim of a “worldwide royalty-free license to reproduce, display, distribute” his content.

Adobe’s Chief Strategy Officer Scott Belsky says that the clause Yanshin refers to has been in the company’s ToU for over a decade and is standard for any cloud based company that hosts user-created content online. He tweeted that Adobe’s summary of changes was poorly worded and needed further clarification.

On Monday, Adobe posted that clarification, saying:

“We recently rolled out a re-acceptance of our Terms of Use, which has led to concerns about what these terms are and what they mean to our customers. This has caused us to reflect on the language we use in our Terms and the opportunity we have to be clearer and address the concerns raised by the community.”

As for the specifics of the changes, Adobe says the new terms primarily involve content moderation. With the rapid growth of generative AI, the company felt it necessary to modify how it looked at and accepted content submissions. Its Terms of Use agreement has not been updated in 11 years, and the company admits it should have “modernized” it sooner.

Yanshin responded to Belsky, saying he gives “percisely zero f*cks” about clarifications. His stance is that the company has no right to lay claim to work produced by its customers, many of whom are enterprises using that content as copyrighted business assets. Adobe subscribers are not paying to have their creations stolen; they are paying Adobe to provide the tools to make and store them.

Adobe’s update denies laying claim to subscribers’ works for any reason, let alone to train LLMs.

“We’ve never trained generative AI on customer content, taken ownership of a customer’s work, or allowed access to customer content beyond legal requirements,” Belsky wrote in Adobe’s blog. “Nor were we considering any of those practices as part of the recent Terms of Use update. That said, we agree that evolving our Terms of Use to reflect our commitments to our community is the right thing to do.”

The royalty-free clause Yanshin referred to is simply a standard precautionary measure taken by all companies that host user-generated content online. It protects Adobe from malicious users attempting to file arbitrary copyright lawsuits. Adobe insists that users own all the content that they create using its software and online services.

“You own your content. Your content is yours and will never be used to train any generative AI tool. We will make it clear in the license grant section that any license granted to Adobe to operate its services will not supersede your ownership rights.”

Adobe will accept community feedback over the next several days with plans to roll out the revised terms on June 18.

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