I saw that my latest attempt to print money – literally – had been arrested.

People use Adobe Photoshop for all kinds of things – and some of the things they use it for are very naughty indeed. For the saintly designer, non-naughty things are staples of their creative lives, from touching up images to removing redeye. They’re safe, mean the occasional tangle with a spaghetti of clipping paths at worst, and a rewarding image at best.

Naughty things, on the other hand, are much more interesting than passing off a bunch of quickly knocked-up filter-warped images as an intensive project. I’m thinking forgery, rude nudes, and fakery. It’s all about smoke-&-mirrors, sweaty palms, and over-the-shoulder glances in case the Pantone-blue Photoshop police are on your tail. In today’s oddball justice system, this kind of naughtiness is far more dangerous than repeatedly running someone over while drinking Champagne, but not quite as bad as breaking the speed limit by a quarter of a mile per hour.

It was during a headlong drive through a crowded town centre, pedal to the metal and laptop balanced on the dashboard, that I first noticed how Adobe has taken the forgery business very seriously with Photoshop CS. After balancing my Champagne flute on the passenger seat and switching to autopilot ( called ‘driving with my knees’) so I could focus on the screen, I saw that my latest attempt to print money – literally – had been arrested.

Photoshop CS doesn’t like the colour of money. You can’t use it to scan or work with banknotes from a range of countries, such as the UK and the US. And, if you do, you’ll get a helpful message about legal use of banknotes, and a polite refusal to use the image.

This is a stick up

It turns out that a collection of banks have banded together to write some code and – somehow – encourage Adobe to include it in Photoshop CS. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Bank: “Adobe, we’d like you to include this pattern-recognition software. It won’t save the world, but it will prevent piracy, inconvenience your users, nanny them to the point of them reaching adulthood with a penchant for wearing nappies, and open the door for other images we don’t like very much. Oh, and it’ll look good for your credit worthiness.”

Adobe: “OK, then.”

So what, you say, I don’t scan banknotes. And I admit, apart from some artworking – for which you can legally scan greenbacks and tenners – using banknotes does raise some interesting questions, mostly regarding the expensive, unusual paper you’ve also purchased for your new inkjet.

But, it isn’t just Adobe. Most new graphics applications will not work with banknotes, and reader reports are suggesting that some printers are including code that means it will refuse to output anything that even smells like a banknote. I dismissed a few, isolated reports that digital cameras were refusing to take snaps of notes, and were instead showing a portrait
of the governor of the Bank of England.

Worthiness and criminality aside – the revelation had almost seen me mow down a group of Saturday shoppers (that’s three months, with time off for good behaviour) – it’s not just a problem if you create artwork involving banknotes, but who’s to say it’s going to stop there.

Putting software blocks on what we can do with tools we purchase is shameful – and it won’t be long before some government motion is passed to ensure that we can no longer use nude images in Photoshop, or print out politically incorrect jokes from Word, or fake the up-coming lunar landings for in a 3D package for NASA.

After all, the technology exists, and once you let a technological possibility loose into the world (for further reading, see the entry under Bomb, Don’t Drop The Nuclear in your glowing Encyclopedia Getmeoutahere), it has a tendency to be misused by those in power, and it’s always the artist that suffers. Just ask the £5 character sketch guy I just ran over while writing this. Remember kids, PowerBooks and Porsches don’t mix.