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Adobe Responds to Anti-Counterfeiting Issue

Company says technology does not transmit information By Dave Nagel
Adobe last week began drawing criticism from users when it was discovered that Photoshop CS incorporates anti-counterfeiting technologies that actually analyze images and refuse to allow users to import scans of certain types of currencies. The issue exploded when a user in Adobe's forums announced that he'd encountered a problem opening up an illustration of a U.S. $20 note, setting off a wave of replies (up to 748 as of this writing) from other users, whose responses have ranged from a complete lack of concern to extreme indignation. Adobe had not previously informed users that the technology was incorporated into Photoshop CS, which, incidentally, is also present in some graphics applications from other developers. (A reliable list of these applications was not available at press time.)

Adobe has since conceded that it included anti-counterfeiting technology into Photoshop CS (the first version of Photoshop to include this technology) but maintains that the software does not have a major impact on performance and that it's not being used to monitor users' activities. The technology itself was not developed by Adobe itself, but was commissioned independently by the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group, an international group of banking organizations. It prevents users from importing images of certain "protected" currencies, including the $20 note that launched the controversy.

Users on Adobe's forum ( have expressed concern over the secrecy with which Adobe went about placing the technologies into Photoshop CS, while some wondered whether the technology might transmit user information and whether there might be other "secret" technologies lurking within Photoshop's code. I had a chance to speak with Kevin Connor, director of project management, Adobe Digital Imaging, who said that the technology does not in fact transmit user information. "It doesn't even transmit the fact that an image [was opened]. Basically it's designed to prevent you from opening an image of currency," he said. He also said that Adobe has been discussing the issue with the CBCDG "for years" and wanted to incorporate the technology in a way that would be as non-disruptive as possible. He also denied that there are any other technologies along these lines embedded in Photoshop CS and that Adobe "isn't even discussing" the possibility of incorporating further governmental security technologies into its software. There is, however, the possibility that the anti-counterfeiting technology found in Photoshop CS will be extended to other Adobe products, but that isn't certain at this point.

Connor said that the technology is present in both Macintosh and Windows versions of Photoshop CS and that any performance hits that might result from the technology are negligible. "It's nothing you could easily measure," he said, adding that the code is activated only in certain instances (such as opening a document) and that it does not run in the background constantly. He said it takes "a fraction of a second" to execute the code.

As for the complaints from users and others posting on Adobe's forum, Connor said, "We take any concerns from our users very seriously, and, if we find there are real reasons for [that concern], we'll address them."

According to the U.S. Secret Service, counterfeiting has become an increasingly digital criminal activity. In 1995, according to the organization's statistics, less than 1 percent of counterfeit notes were produced digitally. By 2002, the figure had jumped to nearly 40 percent. The Secret Service says that about one or two U.S. notes out of every 10,000 in circulation worldwide is counterfeit. The latest U.S. $20 bill (series 2004) was issued in October, the first in a string of U.S. currency redesigns to include anti-counterfeiting technologies. The new $50 bill will be rolled out this year, with the new $100 bill expected to follow in 2005.

It should be noted that manipulating currencies digitally is not illegal in and of itself. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing provides images (both low- and high-resolution images) of the $20 note in question for public use (as well as separate EPS and GIF images of the seals of the U.S. Treasury Department, U.S. Federal Reserve and U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing). The U.S. Department of Treasury provides guidelines via the Secret Service for creative professionals who work with images of currency or use currency elements in their illustrations. A complete list of guidelines can be found at In short, illustrations that include currency or elements of currency must be smaller than 75 percent or larger than 150 percent the original linear dimensions of the currency (or currency element) in question; the illustration must be one-sided; and all source material (plates, storage, graphics files, etc.) must be destroyed and/or erased after their final use. (The rules apply only to paper currency. See the Treasury Department's guidelines for further information.)

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Contact the author: Dave Nagel is the editor and producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Apple DVD Studio Pro, Mac OS, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications. You can reach him at [email protected].

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