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Adobe, others slip anticounterfeiting code into apps

At the behest of a group of banks, makers of image-manipulation programs have inserted secret technology into programs to prevent the opening of images of money, Adobe says.

Adobe and other makers of image-manipulation programs have, at the behest of a little-known group of national banks, inserted secret technology into their programs to foil counterfeiting, the companies acknowledged this week.

Photoshop and other programs will no longer be able to open files containing images of several nations' currencies, said Kevin Connor, director of product management for Adobe. The code to detect such images came from the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group, a low-profile association representing the national banks from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

At the request of the group, Adobe and other software companies have inserted the functionality into their programs.

"This is a relatively new thing," Connor said. "We are not the first software application to do this, but we are probably the largest."

While Connor didn't know which currencies were protected by the technology, users of Adobe Photoshop CS and Jasc's Paintshop Pro have complained that files containing images of the new U.S. $20 bill and several Euro denominations cannot be opened. Moreover, Connor stressed that the technology is already included in most color printers.

The creator of the technology, Digimarc, confirmed that it had produced the code under contract to the banking group, but wouldn't discuss any details.

"Due to the nature of the project, all the players and details are confidential," said Leslie Constans. Jasc, the maker of Paintshop Pro, couldn't be reached for comment.

Little information exists on the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group (CBCDG).

The association was formed in 1993 by the governors of the G-10 central banks, according to the Bank of Canada's annual report. Originally called SSG-2, the group has mainly been given the task of developing a system to deter computer-based counterfeiting. In 2003, the United States gave $2.9 million to the counterfeit-deterrence program, according to a report from the Federal Reserve. The Bank for International Settlements acts as the association's agent in contractual arrangements, according to information on the BIS's Web site.

The group could not be contacted for comment.

As early as 2000, the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group started approaching companies that made image manipulation programs as well as color printers, asking them to include anticounterfeiting technology in their products. In addition, the European Central Bank has requested that the Commission for European Communities create legislation that would make the inclusion of such technology mandatory.

In the United States, such technology goes beyond the requirements of the law. U.S. artists are able to scan and use the image of currency in their works as long as the image is less than 75 percent or greater than 150 percent of the dimensions of the original bill. Artists are also required to only make single-sided prints of the image and to destroy the digital copy when the work is done.

"The current implementation does not take into account your intent," said Adobe's Connor, who characterized the curtailing of artists rights as just "changing the source of where you would get the images."

Now artists will have to download images from a legal source, such as the U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving.

Yet, one poster to Adobe's forums found that even bank-provided images of currencies couldn't be opened. A collage of several denominations from a Swedish bank couldn't be opened.

"This is insane," the person wrote. "Nobody, and certainly not software I pay for, should have any say of what sort of image I am allowed to open."