The ITAM Review

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Forever 21 Pirated Copies of Adobe Software

Forever 21 store in Singapore

Forever 21 store in Singapore

On January 29th, The Verge reported that Adobe is suing the fashion chain Forever 21 for a number of copyright infringements and un-licensed software. The Verge states that:

“Forever 21 pirated 63 different instances of Adobe software including copies of Photoshop, Acrobat, and Illustrator. Autodesk and Corel also joined Adobe in the suit, based on pirated copies of Autodesk, WinZip and PaintShopPro, among others”

It has also been made public that Forever 21 continued to infringe copyright even after being made aware of the situation by Adobe. They are a huge organisation, with a well-known brand and huge profit margins. There is simply no excuse for them to be using pirated or illegal copies of software. The fact that Adobe also told them they were infringing copyrights and they still continued to do so is unforgivable.


Forever 21

Forever 21 are an American fashion chain that is currently based out of Los Angeles, California. In 2013 Forbes reported that they had sales of over $3.7 billion, with over 480 stores around the world. Before they found trouble with Adobe, Forever 21 have also been in trouble for issues around employee safety and more interestingly copyright infringements from other clothing brands.

However, with that said it baffles us that they have been found to be using pirated and unauthorized copies of Adobe, Autodesk, and Corel and WinZip software. They certainly have enough money to legally acquire software, so why put the organisations reputation and increase the risk potential by using pirated copies of relatively (apart from Autodesk) cheap software applications?


What Can We Learn From This Case?

No one is safe. It does not matter how big an organisation you are, or how well known the brand is, if you are found to be using software illegally then you will be caught and fined. The article does not disclose how much money Forever 21 will be fined, but we can expect to hear more about this case in the coming weeks. We would assume that an example will be made of them, to highlight the fact that pirating software and using under licensed software is no acceptable and will be strongly punished. This is also a wake-up call to other well-known organisations that may be under the impression that they are safe from the auditors.

Both the ITAM world and the general business world can learn a lot from this case. The ITAM world has another opportunity to highlight it’s importance, and also it is quite a wake-up call to show that organisations that we may not of considered as being under licensed or using pirated software (such as well know brands or organisation, you would assume they have their software assets managed correctly). It shows that ITAM still has some way to go before being a basic function within any organisation.

This is also a wake up call for the retail world and other organisations. You are not safe from the auditors. If you are using software illegally or using pirated software then you will be caught. Now is the time for organisations to start addressing their software estates and taking software licensing seriously. We keep saying it, but now is the time to start implementing ITAM and addressing the software risks within the organisation.


Why Are Organisations Still Using Illegal Software?

Quite simply it is down to poor governance, ignorance, arrogance and a lack of education around software and software licensing. I suspect that Forever 21 had the mentality of ‘we wont ever get caught’ or ‘auditors don’t care about retail organisations, there are bigger fish to fry’. Wrong. There are a number of organisations that still do not take ITAM or software licensing seriously, and do no consider being under-licensed a big risk or top priority for addressing. This mentality needs to change, and it gradually is but not quick enough for our liking.

We reported last year that the BSA stated that there was $60 billion worth of unlicensed software in operation within organisations, with a small Planning and Design organisation also being fined. Furthermore, during our recent trip to New York, our very own Martin Thompson worked out that if you add all of the customers of the SAM tool vendors, it equates to hundreds of thousands of businesses. There are millions of businesses out there that will require an ITAM or software licensing governance program that simply do not currently have something in place yet. The ITAM discipline is still just scratching the surface in trying to make an impression on the global business environment.


Adobe Going to the Press Shows Desperation

The fact that Adobe has gone to the press with the information of this case shows that there has been a breakdown in the relationship with vendor and organisation. Usually, when a vendor goes to the press it is as a last resort, and all over avenues have been blocked by the organisation. Whilst this is only speculation, it is usually the case. Forever 21 have a history of not following the law with stealing people’s patents for designs with clothing etc, so they may feel as though they do not have to answer to Adobe. Also, the fact that Adobe have contacted them already to say that they are infringing copyrights and are using software illegally, and Forever 21 continue to do so, clearly shows Forever 21 have no respect for software licensing or copyright infringements.


We have the mantra of ‘If you cannot manage it, do not install it’ here at the ITAM Review. There are simply no excuses for being under licensed, and even less excuses for pirating software! We believe we are the voice for the community, but being under licensed or pirating software is something that cannot be condoned, and we are firmly on the side of the software vendors should any organisation be found to using illegal copies of software.


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About David Foxen

David Foxen is a Software Asset Management expert and enthusiast. He had a vast experience of successfully implementing SAM, SAM tools and also made huge cost savings. A member of the ISO Standards WG21, David is a massive ITAM geek, so uses any opportunity to talk about the subject to who-ever will listen. He believes that the industry needs to share its knowledge and success stories to help the SAM industry mature and become more effective. Always willing to help, his primary goal is to make a difference to organisations and the SAM industry so everyone will know how epic SAM is!


  1. Adobe going to press with this is the last resort. The vast majority of these issues get resolved way before things get public. So I’d be fascinated to know why Forever 21 chose to ignore any opportunities for staying out of the public eye. It also shows that Adobe don’t value the relationship and had no option but to go public.

  2. Yes, of course you must pay for what you use.
    But why in the Adobe check list of steps for an audit there is one “Deliver evaluation to customer” and the following one is “Pass the list to Sales unit?”
    Isn’t this an “Audit driven” sales strategy?

  3. Hi David and Martin,

    Great article. I agree with ITAM Review positions regarding use of unlicensed or pirate software.
    In this specific case, we must not forget that, Forever 21’s owner and main executive are a Chinese man, and due this probably haven’t too much concern around software licensing, copyright and related matters.

    This case remembers me also, the EMBRAER case with Microsoft Brazil, which was stopped in last minute in US, and almost became the first case in the world where the UCA (Unfair Competition Act) was applied, a law that has a clearly originated focus on Chinese companies that invaded the world with their low costs, in many cases leveraged by use of illegal IT assets.

  4. Patrick says:

    One would think they care about money. They’re going to have alot less of it when all the software fines are paid. This company has had serious labor violations, & has been sued more than 50 times for allegedly stealing the work of other designers and passing it off as their own (settled out of court with Travota for an undisclosed amount).

  5. David Foxen says:

    Thank you for your feedback. I think it highlights the importance of SAM and License Management for ANY organisation, regardless of sector or reputation. Anyone can get caught.

  6. Philip Tishberg says:

    Adobe is right but in all fairness to the customers out there in the world who legally license their software, Adobe does not also divulge, even to its top tier customers (like Citi***** & City of N*) potential savings and out-right “un-necessary” licensing arrangements (mostly for the beneficial effect to its sales reps). I know of two cases that I personally worked on a few years ago where this was the case. In one instance, when there was a 30,000 user license upgrade from Acrobat Standard V7 to V8, the customer had assumed they needed to also purchase the Acrobat Distiller (printing component for Acrobat) for V8 as they had for V7. In fact, as of the release of V8, the Distiller was INCLUDED as part of the software package (due to Adobe’s decision to restrict the directories that PostScript files can access with the Distiller [V8 now limited this to temp and font cache directories and V7 and earlier versions, allowed the PS File Operators to have unlimited directory access). Now I agree with Adobe that the unlimited access would pose a security problem however by including this component with limited functionality going forward and not disclosing unless they were specifically asked or read some tech briefing on this limitation issue, the ongoing as had always been the case of separately licensing for each Adobe Acrobat user license a copy of the Acrobat Distiller was now not needed to be purchased. This exemplifies what I believe is Adobe trying in effect and mostly succeeding in “shaking down” their customers before they even realized what had happened. As Adobe requires licenses for every version installed, no requirement for re-licensing that part that wasn’t needed to be additionally purchased was a fact that was NOT ever brought up by any Adobe representative (Technician, Sales Rep, Sales VP) and when the LICENSE Agreement was signed the component cost (I believe it was $29/copy though don’t hold me to it as this was about 8 years ago) which equaled about a little under $100,000 USD was a line item on the PO. As I was involved (in a totally different global project) responsible for the top vendors and products being included in the MSL creation for the upgrade from their Internal License Management System to the then current HP Asset Desk V5 (don’t laugh please), I uncovered this “little” overlooked mistake by the Adobe sales team. When I reported it up through my client’s legal chain, they were able to petition Adobe for a full credit in that amount towards the ongoing Acrobat/Macromedia merger contract re-write negotiations to which there was so much confusion. I could tell you that there clearly was a sigh of relief from my client’s side vis-a-vis the now vulnerable position that the Adobe VP felt in those discussions. Not sure how much they were sweating it out in San Jose, but I can assure you that there were “smiles everywhere’ over on Park Avenue’s more rarefied offices.

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