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  • Adobe Photoshop: A Counterfeiting Software?
  • January 21 2004

    This week, the discovery by several graphic designers that Adobe included a counterfeiting protection scheme within the new Photoshop CS angered many. There have been allegations that such moves are Big Brother-like and an invasion of the privacy of users. It is far from being such, although the effectiveness of such measures is a better reason to question their existence.

    At the behalf of the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group, a group representing several central banks from countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe, Adobe and possibly several other product vendors added a third-party protection scheme that stops users from scanning various currencies and to manipulate existing digital files.

    Adobe did not advertise this new feature when it released Photoshop CS. In several cases, it has stopped legitimate users from using money in legitimate advertizing material and other presentations. Users can only manipulate distorted digital images of currency. Accusation of Big Brother invasions of privacy and that Adobe caved in are exaggerated.

    The inclusion of this technology is not an invasion of privacy by Big Brother, whatever that is. We should see it as business as usual for software makers. The counterfeiting measure is much like other protection measures such as license protection and anti-copying schemes introduced years ago by most software vendors. There is nothing new here.

    In fact, adding protection schemes within the software is a prerogative of software makers. Users always buy a license to use software. Very few programs are sold as final products where the vendors do not reserve themselves the right to revoke any privilege consented or even control what users do with the output from the programs they purchase license for.

    Our Real Rights

    Programs like Photoshop make no guarantees although users have come to expect some. Users ask for better versatility, accessibility, speed, stability and useful features. Most of the time, vendors try to provide that. However, it seems that increasingly, vendors have to listen to the need of other players, who are often not users but directly affected by the new programs.

    Adobe Photoshop's counterfeiting features are very similar to the protection features in say, DVDs. At the behest of another party, vendors block users from using the technology in some way. It is quite conceivable that Adobe and other software vendors in other fields have other protection schemes, especially in light of security threats after September 11.

    What many users resent is probably that one of their darling company has given in into the man. Adobe, like Apple, has an image of being different from other companies. Their customers are proud to use their products. Much of the demographics of people in computer graphics is in creative industries where nonconformity is de rigueur. Adobe should not cave in.

    That is what Adobe, Apple and other similar companies want to make their customers believe. However, as we see here, being the hippest company on the block may have some disadvantage, especially as demands by third parties, will increasingly influence how software and hardware are made.

    Problems with Protection

    That's not to say that there aren't problems with adding protection schemes to software. The first victims of protection schemes are regular users who have no intention of stealing. For example, a dongle has never stopped a professional thief from copying a software. It has only made the job harder, but not impossible. Dongles affect regular users who accumulate with three on one system.

    The other problem with the particular measure used in Photoshop CS is that older versions of Photoshop don't have the counterfeiting measure. The previous version of Photoshop already satisfies the needs of most users. The upgrade adds a few features and integrates better with other CS products. Big deal. To be effective, Adobe should disable all old copies of Photoshop!

    Now that everybody knows about the counterfeiting thing, real fraud artists will find ways of defeating the measure. The best recourse for central banks should probably be in continually updating the technology they use to produce dollar bills. Fortunately, they already do that.

    Coolstreak Cartoons Inc.

    Copyright ® 2004. Use of material in this document®including reproduction, modification, distribution, electronic transmission or republication®without prior written permission is strictly prohibited.

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