Billions of euro banknotes must be withdrawn from circulation because they breach copyright law by illegally displaying a satellite map of Europe, says a French company which claims it owns the rights to the map.
M-Sat, based in Clermont-Ferrand, has lodged a formal complaint for counterfeiting and copyright abuse with the Clermont district court. A judge has been assigned to examine the case.
"We want a stop put to this counterfeiting," M-Sat's lawyer, Gilles-Jean Portejoie, told BBC News Online. "If that means all euro notes being withdrawn then so be it."
A spokesman for the European Central Bank (ECB) said that the rights to the satellite image were acquired legally in 1997 from an Austrian company when the design for the new notes was agreed upon.
Sources said the Austrian company, which the ECB has not named, has since gone bankrupt.
M-Sat, whose 25 employees specialise in artwork produced from satellite photographs, says the ECB has illegally reprinted its map of Europe on the back of some 25 billion banknotes.
M-Sat's managing director, Laurent Masselot, says one of his workers spotted earlier this month that the map on the notes was the work of the company.
"A forgery can often by detected because it reproduces a product's technical faults," Mr Masselot told BBC News Online. "The long list of technical points we showed the judge was more than enough to convince him that we had a serious complaint."
He pointed out details such as lighter coloured areas, showing the plains of Spain and northern Europe, that were a little too large.
The company's graphic artists matched hundreds of satellite photographs with the earth's curve, superimposed and aligned them with each other, and harmonised their colours and perspectives.
M-Sat says it produced the map in 1997 after four years' work and that it cost more than 3.8m euros.
Mr Masselot takes a more conciliatory approach to the issue than his lawyer.
He says he doesn't expect the euro notes to be withdrawn or millions of Europeans to be arrested for receiving counterfeit goods.
"But it is unacceptable that the ECB should use the map without paying rights or obtaining due authorisation," he said. "The bank says it acquired the rights to use the image from an Austrian company. But we own the copyright and anyone wanting to use the image must ask us for permission. The ECB did not do that. I want compensation."
He declined to say exactly how much compensation he hopes for. But he said that longer the affair dragged on, the higher the sum would be.