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Should I use a digital watermark on my work?

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

Are you analog or are you digital? These days, it's easy to find individuals in one or the other camp. Some dwell in both worlds. If you are someone who does design work, you want to protect your work from theft, misuse or use without your permission.

Finding the best way to protect intellectual property is always worth discussing with an experienced attorney. That applies whether the issue is staking your claim to control the use of your work, or finding yourself in the position of having to litigate when your work has been usurped.

Behold the watermark

Many readers will recognize the term watermark. The process of imbuing paper with a shadowy imprint first started in the 13th century in Italy. Its objective was to discourage counterfeiting of government stamps, currency and other important documents. Over the centuries, it filtered through the rest of the analog world, providing security against all sorts of unauthorized duplication.

In the digital age, it can still be important to watermark your work, and a number of methods are available. Photoshop, InDesign and various Apple and Microsoft programs all offer tools that leverage metadata, which the Federal Geographic Data Committee describes as "information about data."

Like a library catalog record, metadata codes a source by the who, what, when, where, how and why. Not only does it provide a means of creative identification, some methods also can digitally track the use of a marked asset.

Words of warning

Not all artistic designers swear to the necessity of watermarking. Some suggest it can dilute the potential value of one's work. This might be particularly true if marking isn't done according to some guidelines. Here's what some experts recommend if you decide to digitally watermark.

  • Avoid a watermark design that interferes with the protected image.
  • When a mark method proves its worth, use it consistently.
  • If you seek to prevent downloads of protected work, disable the right-click option that lets users access the "Save As Image" function.
  • To prevent infringement, consider using a tool that embeds an invisible watermark in the metadata.

The final decision about how you share your work should always rest with you, the copyright holder. To make the best decision for protection and defense, you should seek to understand all your options.

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