When Buying Software Overseas Is This Hard, No Wonder Piracy Is Rampant

I’ve found that many software companies time their new releases for late at night in the United States. That’s lunchtime here in Taiwan. So when I learned over lunch, via Twitter, that Adobe Lightroom 3 had been released, I immediately went to the Adobe site to buy my copy.

I should have had the jump on my sleeping American friends, right? It didn’t work out that way.

Address Not Accepted

I downloaded the trial version. As soon as I confirmed that it had installed properly and was able to read my Lightroom 2 catalogs, I clicked “Buy.”

Nothing happened. Then I got a message from Adobe saying it could not accept my online payment because my registered location was Taiwan.

Unfortunately, as an ex-pat photographer based here for seven years and married to a Taiwanese citizen, I no longer kept any bank accounts or addresses registered elsewhere.

What to do?

Finding a boxed copy in a store here would be close to impossible. It would need to be specially ordered and take at least 6 weeks to arrive. Many local distributors also won’t accept upgrade pricing — only the full retail price.

When Lightroom 2 was released, I had a friend on a business trip to the United States buy it for me there, but no such luck this time. I contemplated making a quick trip to Hong Kong to buy a boxed copy — but this would add $150 in plane fare to the cost of my purchase.

BitTorrent and Other Solutions

I turned to Twitter and Facebook, asking if anyone had solutions for me. They did — and how.

A surprisingly large number of photographers suggested I simply wait for Lightroom 3 to be available on BitTorrent and download an “alternative” version. In other words, skip the runaround and get a pirated copy.

I didn’t want to go there. Fortunately, one Twitter follower had another idea; he suggested I try Bundle Box, a site that allows people outside the United States to have a virtual U.S. address.

Returning to the Adobe store, I created an Adobe ID using my new Bundle Box address. I then went back to the Lightroom 3 product page, clicked on “Buy,” filled in the credit card details and I was done!

Or not.

One Final Hurdle

Adobe accepted my payment and informed me that a serial number would be sent in a separate e-mail and would appear in the “Your Orders” section. But when I got there, instead of a serial number, I got this message: “Contact Customer Service.”

Of course, it was after hours in the United States, so I had to wait till 8 p.m. my time to call. Then I had to wait on hold for someone to talk to me.

Sitting on hold on an international call is not something I normally like to do, but it’s still cheaper than a flight to Hong Kong would have been. After someone answered, I got transferred around a couple of times — but when I finally reached the right person, everything got sorted out. I got my serial number and my purchase was complete.

After going through this experience, though, I wonder how many people would have stopped looking for legal solutions and would have simply downloaded a copy over BitTorrent instead? Adobe and other software makers, take note.

12 Responses to “When Buying Software Overseas Is This Hard, No Wonder Piracy Is Rampant”

  1. And you get cheap pricing in the US anyway. When you have to pay the sort of exorbitant prices Adobe charges here in Australia (and I have 3 machines to buy licences for) you can imagine the temptation to buy it on eBay or from BitTorrent is much higher.

  2. Unfortunately, those who live overseas w/ foreign bank accounts (myself included) are so in the minority that I doubt much will change. I think Adobe would argue that you were able to work your way around it.

    Your point is well taken though. I find it ironic that the things they implement to PREVENT pirated software actually have the ability to drive honest customers to consider pirating the software.

    As someone who has been in and out of Asia since 2003 and now currently lives there full time, I feel your pain. I live in the middle of nowhere so I see this problem quite regularly - Im surprised you had that issue in Taiwan.


  3. I also had a painful experience trying to purchase Lightroom. I moved from South Africa to the UK. When I tried to purchase Lightroom through the UK store, my purchase was rejected as "My account was registered in another country". In order to buy Lightroom, I needed to register a new account with Adobe, which involved having to register a new email address, as my other two had already been registered with Adobe. Why you can't change your country of registration is beyond me.

    I chose to go the legal route and eventually succeeded in buying Lightroom - but you have to ask yourself, why is it easier to get an illegal copy? Adobe should make the purchase process as quick and painless as possible.

  4. I guess the other alternative is to just stop using the products, aside from acquiring a pirated copy. I have opted for this route with a few vendors that either make it ridiculously difficult to buy their product or have implemented license validation/protection which renders the product overly burdensome to use. Of course, the irony in the second case is that most of the software still remains readily available in pirated form and is only a burden to use for the paying customer. It is really very sad.

  5. Well said Craig. I have also experienced a similar problem. It's very frustrating.

  6. I feel your pain. For seven years, Adobe accepted my credit card payments from Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies for online downloads of Photoshop, Lightroom and back in the day, GoLive.
    Two years ago, that simply stopped. I can no longer order a download online, which would be enormously convenient to me and I am on record as a paying customer whose money is good.
    I have no idea why a company would purposefully disregard the evidence of their own financial records and choose to snub me as a customer, but it cost them an upgrade to Photoshop CS4. Now I'm going to have to wait for Amazon to get Lightroom 3 in stock to have the opportunity to face wholly unnecessary shipping and Customs charges for a product that exists as atoms on a disc.
    Does this company even want to sell their software?

  7. I understand the sometimes futile time it takes to do something. However, that would never mean that it was then OK to steal it.

    I am reminded about how impatient we all are these days. To be able to purchase a piece of software over the internet, download it and be working on it within a couple of days is still amazing.

    Keep in mind where we are compared to where we were.

    Nothing would justify the theft of the property though, and sometimes what we want simply isn't available. And we need to deal, not steal.

    Thanks for the heads up on this great post!

  8. Don, I agree with you whole heartedly, which is why I'm still using CS3 - after 2009 I simply cannot afford to upgrade to CS4, let alone CS5.

    However, people are tempted to theft by the greed of the big software companies. This isn't just in the software industry, though, it's rampant throughout western society. People are deprived of many things, even food and shelter, by the greed of others who will not share their wealth for the common good. And when society crashes into barbarism as a result, they'll be the first to bleat when they're dispossed by those they've dispossed over the years.

  9. Ok this is super weird, please follow me:

    Case 1 - I am Italian, I live in Italy I want to buy an Adobe product, I pay in Euros the same numerical amount I would pay in dollars and the customer service is quite on the low side.
    Result: the price changes following the currency exchange and the overall value does not correspond and you also do not get mail-in rebates.

    Case 2 - You are American, you live in the US, let's say you want to buy an AGV motorcycle helmet, you pay less than you would pay for it in Italy (where it is made) and guess what ... customer service for US citizens is better than for Italians.

    I guess I am about to figure out the rule of thumb of all this.

    That's why I had my Canon purchased in the US 🙂

  10. The Adobe pricing policy is weird.

    An english version Adobe Photoshop CS5 fullversion mac (not upgrade or extended) is USD 650 at B&H Photo & Video in New York.
    I guess sales tax is added if you walk in thru the street in NY.

    The same program is SEK 8765 (USD 1145) if I buy at http://www.dustin.se here in Sweden. Add 25% VAT.
    You can deduct the VAT if you are a registered as a company with the tax authorities.

    It's exactly the same software in both cases.

  11. A bit off topic: there is more than the Adobe pricing that's hard to understand.

    A PocketWizard Plus II (US version) is USD 169 at B&H Photo & Video in New York.
    As I understand it sales tax is added if you walk in from the street in NY.

    The same item (but CE version) is SEK 2300 (USD 305) if I buy at http://www.scandinavianphoto.se here in Sweden. Add 25% VAT.
    You can deduct the VAT if you are a registered as a company with the tax authorities.

    I understand the product is US made.
    US and CE versions means different frequenzies and perhaps also require certification with the authorities in the importing countries.
    Import duties is normally only a few percent.

    But nearly double street price?

  12. It's always good to make sure that you have a reliable way to transfer money to different countries. This was good information. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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