Photoshop CS2 on eBay

There are now few things in life more certain than upgrades, death and taxes. A few months ago I decided I really had to upgrade my copy of Photoshop 6, which is now ancient. Having trotted off to Adobe's Online store I discovered that not only had Adobe jacked UK upgrade prices, which I already knew about from the furore on the web, but also they had changed their upgrade policy. In the past any version of Photoshop from v4 was OK. But Photoshop CS3, the current version and the only one they now sell, could only be obtained as an upgrade from Photoshop 7, CS or CS2. I could only buy the full retail product at an eyewatering £569.88.

Adobe clearly hasn't heard that most of the photography industry is in a tailspin. Most professionals are struggling not to spend money at the same time as they are being subjected to relentless price competition and deprived of the value of what they create by predatory publishers and mega-agencies. One reason I avoided Photoshop CS was Adobe's inclusion of Adobe Royalty Free into Bridge - a mechanism to assist creatives to access royalty free collections from within Photoshop and garner Adobe a slice of the profits. Why would I want to pay Adobe money to assist cannibalism?

To be perfectly honest, v7, CS, CS2 and CS3 mostly add features that I do not want nor need, and certainly are not worth paying £569.88 for. Bridge and Imageready are the major additions and are of no interest at all, I already use the excellent iMatch for digital asset management.

Another reason is that I detest software that requires activation. Although every company that goes this route blathers on about it being fairer to paying customers, I have had plenty of trouble with it. My first encounter was with OCR c.1998, an extremely good but infuriating program for OCR of scanned text. I got very fed up having to email them every time I moved the program through successive hardware upgrades. It sometimes took 3 days for a response, and I have since deleted it in favour of a competitor that requires none of this nonsense. Windows XP Pro's activation has been a pain too, after a succession of hardware problems left me not only with a backlog of deadline work but also a non-working operating system. Having to sort that out over the phone meant I did not get to bed until 3am that night instead of 1.30am. I didn't pay MS to keep me up extra late, and if anything Adobe's version of activation has a more mixed reputation.

Still there are a few improvements in later Photoshop versions: better 16bit support, the healing brush, and I can forsee Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom becoming fairly unavoidable in the future.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed about 30 copies of Photoshop CS2 on eBay, all brand new, sealed, shrinkwrapped 'full retail product'. Most were from eBay powersellers with masses of positive feedback, and selling at £100-£150. I am very careful on eBay, and in 100+ transactions have never yet been ripped off despite a couple of close calls. And these CS2 looked absolutely authentic, as if Adobe had dumped a lot of obsolete stock into the reseller chain. I checked the comments of people who had bought this software, everybody was happy : 'product as described'. CS2 would do me fine. It had all the extra bits I'd actually use, so I bought one.

As soon as I opened the package I realised it was fine, authentic Adobe product. Phew, what a relief, another triumph for my shrewd and excellent judgement: PS CS2 for £110 instead of twice what my car is worth.

So I installed it. Everything went as you'd expect. I filled in the registration wizard, and it came back to say I had successfuly registered. Then it trundled off to Adobe and downloaded all the outstanding updates. And yes, the program worked. But what had become of activation, the loathsome procedure whereby Adobe allow you to actually use what you have paid for, and without which the software stops working after 30 days.? I hadn't seen an activation screen at all. The manual said it should appear on installation. So I tried 'activate' on the menu and absolutely nothing happened.

This was clearly not right, but some Googling revealed it happened sometimes. Adobe's tech support documents suggest a number of possible causes including conflicting software, antivirus products, or hardware issues ranging from lost sectors on the disk to a defective disk. They suggest fixing disk errors, formatting the disk, installing Windows fresh, then Photoshop. Then reinstall all your applications and data and see if it's OK. I wasn't terribly impressed by that prospect.

Next I installed it on my laptop to see if I could replicate the problem. It was exactly the same except installation of updates failed as well. Both machines run Norton Antivirus, have had disks partitioned using Partition Magic, and run some bits of Systemworks - all software on Adobe's list of potential activation-breakers. This was beginning to be irritating and turning into one of those PC sagas that eats weekends.

I then discovered that despite completing the registration wizard in CS2, it didn't seem to have created a product record at the Adobe site for me. Drat, yet another glitch.

Meanwhile, I'd been so pleased with myself discovering this money-saving opportunity that I'd placed a message on CIX suggesting anyone who wanted a cheap CS2 should have a look at eBay. One chap had gone ahead and found exactly as I had - that registration and activation seemed to be broken. He had also noticed that keyboard shortcuts did not work. But he had rung Adobe support and been told that the serial number was invalid.

So too have I, now.

Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2007 13:24:53 +0200 (CEST)
From: Adobe English Customer Service <>
To: <>
Subject: Invalid Serial Number (KMM3021291I51L0KM)

Dear Mr. Sleep,

Your Customer Service Number is: --------

In regards to serial number: 1045-1084-5805-7432-9705-7296, please note that
this is an unauthorised serial number and therefore, the product which you
have may not be an authorised copy. Unfortunately we cannot register this
product using this serial number. You will therefore not be able to receive
technical support or other benefits.
We strongly recommend that you pass a copy of this letter to the dealer or
distributor from whom you obtained the product in order to resolve this issue.
In circumstances such as these your dealer is the appropriate contact.

Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to

Sarah Stahl
Adobe Customer Service
Tel: (UK) 02073650733
Tel: (Eire) 012421552
Fax: 0031 20 5820800

Both our copies are counterfeit product, it appears. Adobe admitted to me that there are ways in which authentic product can acquire invalid serial numbers, but they are usually returns. Also they said that they never dump obsolete product. After production ceases they store any remaining stock in case it is required as replacements. I read that as : shrinkwrapped and hacked software, to disable activation, can surely only be fakes.

What is remarkable is that these are not shabby boot sale knock-offs, they have exactly the same quality of production as Adobe's own product. Everything is included, shrinkwrapped packaging, a 410-page litho printed manual on coated stock, even stock and serial number labels. The CD printing is perfect, without a hint of second-generation anywhere. Neither of us could tell they were fakes, and worse, nor will dealers and resellers be able to do so unless there is something innately suspicious about their supplier.

I have been in touch with the eBay seller and don't propose naming him because he appears genuinely concerned and promises an immediate refund. Besides there are many sellers. I count 25 'new retail CS2' on sale via and 58 via I also looked at the German, French, Italian and Spanish eBay sites, but only found a couple of copies. There is no way to know whether it's only some, many or all eBay PS CS2 that are fakes, but there doesn't appear to be any way to tell until you try and register and activate them. It stands to reason that anyone counterfeiting this well has gone to substantial trouble and expense and will be producing a very large number of copies.

There is of course the likelihood that buyers won't care, so long as they get a cheap version of CS2 that doesn't need activating, that looks authentic and even includes a nice manual. If they return it, they risk difficulty in obtaining a refund, and may lose their money. The temptation is to collude and keep quiet. They may even kid themselves it is authentic but malfunctioning, as I did initially, but I think this is dangerous. We have no idea what other changes may have been made to the software, whether trojans or keyloggers have been added. Counterfeiting at this scale and quality is after all organised crime. I don't particularly want the mafia in my computer.

Presumably most people buying CS2 will actually do so in the belief they are getting the real thing, else they'd simply go and download a Warez copy and Keygen and avoid paying anything. If you Google for 'photoshop CS2 keygen download' you get 1.8m hits, and for CS3 2.7m hits. Aside from the illegality and immorality, who knows what else a hacker is going to install as an unwanted payload? But clearly, Adobe prices make this worth the risk for a great many people, most of whom would never have bought Photoshop anyway. Still, counterfeiting is different from Warez, aimed at people who don't actually want to steal but simply get a better deal than Adobe offers. On old product sold through an auction site by vendors with good track records, it's a plausible and tempting proposition pitched at people who do want to be honest and believe they are getting an opportunity to buy back into upgrade eligibility that Adobe has foreshortened with CS3.

Adobe estimate 4x-5x as many copies of Photoshop are pirated as are sold. Perhaps it is time they looked again at their pricing, upgrade policies and activation as a deterrent to illicit use, because all they seem to have achieved is a massive business opportunity for a better class of counterfeiter able to fool punters and dealers alike, and that will lose them many millions more than hacked copies off Bittorrent ever could.


Below are PDF's of Photoshop CS2 & CS3 software currently on sale via Ebay UK and Ebay USA. How many are legitimate?

PreviewAttachmentSize - photoshop cs2 retail.pdf152.87 KB - photoshop cs2 retail.pdf232.36 KB - photoshop cs3 retail.pdf203.29 KB


CS3 too

Here is a user who says he has purchased a copy of Photoshop CS3 that Adobe has disallowed as unauthorised. This came from a UK software dealer, Reynard Software who lists a lot of other Adobe software too at astonishingly low prices. How very odd that Adobe were not interested in knowing the dealer's identity. But not if you believe they already know they have a disaster on their hands.

My best guess at this point is that it's pretty unsafe to buy any Adobe software from anywhere except by direct download from Adobe. Yes, of course official dealers will be selling legal software, but how is the buyer to know which dealers are official, and which are not? None of this confusion and fear over authenticity will please their official dealer network one bit. Could that be why Adobe are keeping quiet? Could product be escaping out the back door from Singapore? Have the printing plates illegally emigrated to China? Are they worried about a collapse in confidence that may hurt their share prices? Or is there some other more benign explanation? I think we should be told, because right now people are being robbed and Adobe's silence is helping the robbers.

Regards, Tony Sleep

CS2 ebay thread

There is an eBay thread about these here

Regards, Tony Sleep


I think I've got the same counterfeit one as you, thanks for the warning on DPreview. I did the same, checked all the feedback 1st etc. Just contacted the seller about 5 mins ago, will see what he says. Paul


I forgot to mention one other characteristic of counterfeit copies : CD's are printed 'Made in Singapore' (bottom of the label) and the manual has similar on the back cover. This does not automatically mean they are fakes, Adobe apparently has a manufacturing partner in S.E.Asia, Teckwah in Singapore. But most or all legitimate copies in USA and EC have 'Made in USA' or 'Made in Ireland' instead.

The base of the box says 'Made in USA' on the stock label, but 'Printed in Singapore' on the box itself. The Lot Code on mine is 101833; whether this is universal among counterfeit copies I am trying to find out. These are the only external clues that can be seen without opening the shriink-wrap so may be important.

Why no statements from Adobe?

Regards, Tony Sleep

Volume license activation

Gordon, I don't know. I have been trying to find out the same thing - whether volume licenses requiire activation at all is the question I asked. I've been unable to find out but I would expect not. Corporates would not stand for the admin and support issues, nor Adobe writing all over the boot sector of their hard drives. Microsoft do not impose activation on corporate licensees for these reasons.

I take it the second copy did not exhibit the messed-up keyboard commands of the counterfeit copies, so was not a fake? If so I agree, your second copy of PS sounds like a corporate copy that has been illicitly sold on. I would expect the licence to be tied to the serial number. Adobe will have no way of knowing employees names, just the number of seats that s/no permits.

Adobe may be handling this like some branded OEM Windows XP. EG if you install Dell OEM XP on a Dell, it doesn't need activating, but on any other machine it does. So Photoshop could just check with the activation server to see whether it needs to do a full activation for the serial number, and if it's a corporate licence and within the licensed number of users it won't bother. In such cases 'Already activated' seems a plausible response.

Regards, Tony Sleep

volume license

Hi Tony

I found your input interesting "fake manuals are offset litho, are printed on nice coated stock,,," on the adobe thread and the above blog. I was one of those caught out. The copy was an amazing deception. Mine would not register and keyboard was screwed up. Had money retuned. However, purchased another. Found it 'activated' already. This has to be because it is a volume license. I can get update and register…..All this is possible whilst I have not in anyway contributed to the activation process so this software is ‘activated’ I wonder if i could tap your knowledge: Is this true? Do volume licenses require activation? I would have thought that it could only be used by a member of the company that purchased the volume licence. Can't find any info on volume license activation on Adobe Site (going round and round) so any input appreciated

Thanks Gordon


A long thread in the Adobe User forums hints at the scale of the problem. That thread began in May. Many, many hundreds of copies must have been sold since then. Certainly this US buyer was having problems with counterfeits in June.

When I found out I had a dud serial number, Adobe said they had had 'a few of these'.

Later when I contacted Adobe's anti-piracy department in San Franccisco, they simply asked me to send it to them and get my money back through Paypal, and they would open a case against the seller. But I'd told them there were about 100 copies of dubious provenance on sale on eBay, from many sellers. What was the point in just nailing one, who quite likely had been duped himself?

I thought maybe they didn't understand what I was saying. I told them they could far more easily by their own from eBay and sent them the PDF's attached above and pointed them again at this blog. They just said 'thanks', and when I later sent the PDF of CS3 probable counterfeits at $200 on, they didn't respond at all.

Isn't that a bit odd? Wouldn't you expect a few questions? A bit of appreciation for bringing to their attention a scale of forgery which is costing them a great deal of cash? Duped buyers are, after all, people who are trying to buy legitimately, not steal.

From their lack of reaction, they know they have a problem and have probably known a long time. Yes, I'm sure they will be investigating, trying to find the source, but are Adobe not supposed to be ferocious at pursuing piracy? Why is this stuff still on sale?

Through eBay's VERO programme Adobe have the ability to cancel listings immediately. They haven't. Meanwhile people are being fooled and losing money to criminals.

Let's say an average 50 fake copies are selling on eBay every 10 days, and this has been going on since June. That's 600 copies, at an average of $300, $180,000 of illicit business. eBay and Paypal won't mind their commission, of course, but what buyers have bought is worthless dreck of exactly the same status they could have downloaded from the hacker sites for nothing.

If we have a social and moral duty toward Adobe not to use pirated software and to try and help them to stop it, does Adobe not have a reciprocal duty toward us? It looks as if Adobe only cares when it's Adobe who are being ripped off, and until they can solve that, the rest of us are collateral damage.

If that really is the case, then the sooner we see a plausible GPL compettitor challenge to the Photoshop monopoly the better. 800lb goriillas are worth being pals with, but downright dangerous if they get hold of your testicles.

There is another darker possible motive, too. That it was their own artwork that was 'liberated' and used by the counterfeiters. I imagine Adobe would prefer to keep this whole unfortunate episode quiet because iit points to an embarassing carelessness about the intellectual property they expect us to pay so much for. If that happened Adobe themselves would have facilitated a massive ongoing criminal fraud of which buyers now find themselves the victims. To be clear, this is just empty speculation at this stage, but I've arranged with an owner of legitimate CS2 to compare his with my counterfeit copy. I'll be looking very closely and I'll let you know.

Regards, Tony Sleep

Follow up (from Prodig discussion)

(from discussion of this issue on the Prodig list)

It is very hard to see how such quality could be achieved without access to copies of Adobe's original artwork files. There is no hint of second-generation about any of it, and I've looked at all aspects (packaging, CD, labels, manual etc) with a good loupe. I don't (of course:) have a genuine CS2 to hand for direct comparison, so I may be missing subtle colour errors or something. Most likely someone 'liberated' the postscript files, as I cannot believe any counterfeiter is going to do the 410page manual from scratch.

If anyone is reasonably near Ealing, London UK and has a genuine CS2 I would be very interested to get together and compare with the counterfeir. I don't think I'm allowed to place my email address on this list (?) but you'll find it at my website

As far as I can see, the counterfeiters have spotted a great, gaping business opportunity, created entirely by Adobe's pricing, activation and especially upgrade policies. Had they stuck to their previous any-version-later-than-v4 policy, had they maintained bundling of PS with hardware, had they been even slightly generous with upgrade pricing from PSE, this counterfeiting would not have had a worthwhile market. As it stands anyone wanting CS3 will see these CS2 as the smart route to upgrade to CS3 at half the full retail price. Clever counterfeiters have spotted what Adobe have not, that nature abhors a vacuum.

For further proof try going to and doing a search on 'photoshop cs3 retail'. I count 24 items, including some being sold by eBay shops at suspiciously cheap prices, less than $200 BIN. (NB: I have added a screen grab to the attachments above). Some are for Mac too, not just Windows. How many of those are genuine? Could any be counterfeited by the same route? I wouldn't care to bet $200 on the answer.

My personal reaction to all this is to hope a GPL competitor or even a sanely priced commercial alternative emerges someday. Shaking down your customers usually makes them want to escape.

Regards, Tony Sleep

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