January 11th, 2004


New version of Photoshop won't reproduce currency

I first noticed this on Slashdot:


It's since been confired by Adobe:


If you have the latest version of Photoshop, you can test it with this image.


This is an interesting thing.

Commercial software does sometimes offer serious advantages over the (F/f)ree counterparts. Photoshop is one example - there are things you can do to an image in Photoshop that you can't do in the alternatives. But now, if you want those features, you have to also accept the (probably inappropriate) restrictions that have been imposed by the creators of that software at the behest of a governing body to aid law enforcement.

This is huge!

Not only has Adobe bowed to the government and agreed to scan every image you load for currency infringement (using up cycles on your machine; and yes, the first thing I noticed about Photoshop CS was how slow it was compared to previous versions), but the technical measures are both overly broad, ineffective, and destructive, and they've been added silently.

Overly broad: This restriction removes fair use cases allowed by the law. Photoshop won't even let you open this image, even though doing so doesn't mean you're a counterfeiter. Reproducing currency is legal in certain circumstances, and those circumstances are clearly laid out in the law.

Ineffective: Counterfeiters don't necessarily need the advanced editing features in Photoshop; but Photo editors certainly do. This feature will cause people who want to counterfeit money to look elsewhere, but the legitimate customers are shit out of luck, and technically forbidden from performing legal actions that happen to fall under the umbrella of this restriction. And, because of the DMCA, consumers are also forbidden from bypassing this restriction, even for legitimate uses.

Destructive: It's also been pointed out in this Metafilter thread on the topic that it's theoretically possible to embed the pattern that Photoshop checks for into any image, and thereby prevent that image from being edited in Photoshop.

This is exactly the same situation as every case involving Digital Rights Management, and we're going to see a lot more of them. DRM is not your friend - by its very nature, it can't stop the criminals, and it does a lot to inconvenience and restrict legitimate users. Companies haven't listened to this argument yet, because they have no reason to believe that they'll lose customers by doing this.

Cory Doctorow put it most succinctly, talking about the upcoming Tivo DRM that "allows" you to copy Tivo video to your PC:

'Where does this bizarre idea -- that the dinosaur industry that's being displaced gets to dictate terms to the mammals who are succeeding it -- come from?

I'll tell you two things that are obvious to my entrepreneurial instincts:

1. There is no market demand for TiVo's DRM -- or anyone else's. No
TiVo customer got out of bed this morning and said, "Damn, I wish
there was a way I could do less with my videos."

2. If TiVo isn't giving customers the features they want, someone else
(like a commercial packager of mythtv, for example) will.

Not delivering the products your customers demand is not good business.'