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How to Show Legal Tender Legally: Using Images of Money in Advertising

Did you know there are regulations and restrictions when using images of currency in advertising?  The law regulating currency images is called the Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992 and is administered by the Department of Treasury.  The law sets forth rules for how advertisers can use images of currency including the size, placement, color, and duration.

Some examples of when this law would come into play would be when a promotion requires people to take photos of actual money and upload those images to a website, or when the promotional site itself or advertising may show images of money as prizes. The first scenario can pose more of a potential issue since it can be difficult to regulate or monitor how consumers display the image of currency in relation to the promotion. In this case, best practices would ensure there is no public gallery of the submitted images, nor any mechanism for the photos to be shared publicly, whether on a website or social media platform.

When using images of cash to depict prizing or in any advertising, you must abide by the rules set forth by the Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992.

The Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992, Public Law 102-550, in Section 411 of Title 31 of the Code of Federal Regulations, permits color illustrations of U.S. currency, provided that:

  1. the illustration is of a size less than three-fourths or more than one and one-half, in linear dimension, of each part of the item illustrated;
  2. the illustration is one-sided; and
  3. all negatives, plates, positives, digitized storage medium, graphic files, magnetic medium, optical storage devices and any other thing used in the making of the illustration that contain an image of the illustration or any part thereof are destroyed and/or deleted or erased after their final use. 18 U.S.C. § 504(1)31 CFR § 411.1.

These restrictions were put in place to prevent people from creating counterfeit currency (by cutting out the images of the money and somehow creating counterfeit bills). The law was passed in 1992 – at a time when most people did not have their own personal color printers – so cutting out images of U.S. currency from print advertising at the exact size and color of real money in circulation and then trying to pass it off as legal tender was a reasonable concern.

In today’s digital world where home computers and color printers are commonplace, consumers could theoretically try to create counterfeit currency that old fashioned way; but new measures in the printing process like watermarks and holograms have been put in place to make such crude counterfeiting attempts easier to catch. So, depictions of currency in marketing materials is no longer subject to as much scrutiny as it was in the past. Nevertheless, the law remains on the books and could potentially be enforced. Therefore, it is important to keep the general entry process, marketing materials, and prize depictions in mind when using images of money.

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Gina Shimko

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