Upgrading software is an easy procedure normally done at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse, unless such a procedure allegedly threatens mankind with weapons of mass destruction as a Chinese student discovered to his amazement.
The application by Antoine Duan, 21, to upgrade his Photoshop software was initially approved, but then rejected, by a US-based company he bought the software from. The company cited US Exporting Administration Regulations.
Duan is a student at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, also known as Beihang University, which is on a technology ban list compiled by the US Department of Commerce.
"This is ridiculous," Duan told China Daily on Thursday. "My study has nothing to do with gears or machines that have been banned.
"Its frustrating for a customer who purchased, in good faith, authentic software."
He declined to disclose his Chinese name, as he wanted to keep his identity, as much as possible, out of the spotlight.
Duan bought Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended on June 7 from shop.edu.cn, an online Chinese store that provides software with special student discounts. The website promotes free CS5 upgrades to CS6.
Duan's application to upgrade was initially accepted by Adobe on June 8, according to a communication sent through its Customer Support Portal. Duan is "eligible for the free upgrade", and he should expect to "receive the upgraded product in the next eight to 10 working days", it said.
But on June 11, Duan received another communication canceling the order.
This message stated that the upgrade was refused because of Duan's university. "We are prohibited from exporting to anyone who is directly or indirectly involved in the design, development production or use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or missiles as outlined under the US EAR,'' it stated.
The EAR has a list of foreign entities and individuals that are subject to specific license requirements for the export, re-export and or transfer of specified items, according to information on the official website of the US Department of Commerce.
The Bureau of Industry and Security at the department first published the list in February 1997 "as part of its efforts to inform the public of entities who have engaged in activities that could result in an increased risk of the diversion of exported, re-exported and transferred (in-country) items to weapons of mass destruction programs".
Since its publication, grounds for inclusion on the list have expanded to activities sanctioned by the State Department and activities contrary to US national security and/or foreign policy interests, said the bureau's website.
In the latest version of the list, issued on June 28, nine out of the 40 pages record names of universities, institutions and organizations in China.
Most of these related to spaceflight and aviation technology though entities related to nuclear, chemistry and engineering were also mentioned.
The list contains entities from 26 countries and regions.
Duan received a communication from Adobe on Wednesday, saying it "regrets" that Duan's upgrade request was held up by procedural controls.
Frances Pang, a public relations manager at Adobe, told China Daily on Thursday that the company is looking into the matter and will get back to Duan soon. Pang did not elaborate.
There have been, allegedly, similar cases before involving students in China.
In 2008, another student from Duan's university claimed that he failed to get his laptop repaired from Dell for the same reason. The student, posting on the emuch.net forum, said Dell did not fix the problem until he wrote, by pen, a letter explaining his use of the laptop.
In December 2005, the US Bureau of Industry and Security alleged FedEx caused, aided and abetted acts prohibited by the regulations when it facilitated the unlicensed export of flight simulation software to the university, according to the bureau's website.
FedEx later has agreed to pay a $370,000 civil penalty to settle allegations that it committed this and other five violations, according to the website.
Many organizations on the list refused to comment on the export embargo. Publicity officials at the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Center and the Northwestern Polytechnical University said they use Chinese software.
"Adobe CS5 is not much different from CS6. But I must fight for my rights as an individual consumer, who does not represent the university." Duan said.
Qiu Baochang, head of the lawyers group for the China Consumers' Association, said the control on software is pointless because Duan, if he was so inclined, could use other students' Adobe software to "develop weapons".
"The software is sold on a public channel and Duan should have the same rights as others," Qiu said.
Xia Youfu, senior professor of economics at the University of International Business and Economics, said the list is part of a strategy to contain China.