Controversy with Adobe Terms of Service


Today’s Question: I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter about Adobe trying to “steal” our images based on the terms of service related to their AI [artificial intelligence] technology. Can you address this issue, and do you think this is something we should be worried about?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Especially with the updates Adobe recently made to their terms of service, I don’t think photographers have anything to be concerned about with regard to the use of their images by Adobe.

More Detail: There has been a lot of buzz lately about some changes Adobe made to the terms of service for accessing their Creative Cloud software and services. Having been on both sides of these types of issues, I don’t think the situation called for anywhere near as much alarm as it seemed to cause among some photographers. For example, based on my experience I don’t believe that Adobe would intentionally steal images from photographers to use for their own profit.

First off, consider a situation where you want to share your photos online, perhaps in an effort to gain new customers. In order for the service provider to be able to publish your images, they need a license from you. That license understandably needs to be relatively broad, since when you share your photos online, they can generally be viewed by just about anyone anywhere on the planet, possibly for an indefinite time period. The point is that terms of service often by necessity need to have relatively broad rights granted to the service provider.

The recent uproar over Adobe’s terms of service was a little different, in that part of the issue was the notion that your images could be used to train Adobe Firefly, which is at the core of their AI (artificial intelligence) technology. This caused a bit of concern among photographers. For example, what if you were working on images that were covered by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), but now the images might partially appear in images generated by AI? Would that potentially mean you had violated the NDA?

Fortunately, after the backlash, Adobe has updated the terms of service to clarify that your images will not be used to train AI unless you submit those images to Adobe Stock. In the case of Adobe Stock, you are bound by different terms of service, which do provide Adobe the right to use your photos to train their AI technology.

To be sure, when terms of service are unclear or seem particularly onerous, it is reasonably to be concerned about the potential ramifications of agreeing to those terms. In this case I don’t believe there was anything nefarious about Adobe’s intent. I just think they should have been a bit more careful about how their terms of service were worded.