Digital Watermarks | WebReference

Digital Watermarks

Digital Watermarks: New Tools for Copyright Owners and Webmasters

By Doug Isenberg (

It is often said that, on the Internet, information "wants" to be free. Regardless of what information wants, however, those who own it often disagree.

Writers, photographers, musicians, and artists are among those who have taken advantage of the worldwide publishing opportunities provided by the Internet, yet these same people -- all considered "authors" under U.S. copyright law -- are frequently being taken advantage of by on-line pirates. Given the ease with which audio and visual files can be duplicated, it is no surprise that such duplication on the Internet regularly occurs without the rightful owners' permission.

New technology, however, provides authors with valuable new weapons in their battle to enforce the law in the on-line world. Digital watermarking, sometimes called "fingerprinting," allows copyright owners to incorporate into their work identifying information invisible to the human eye. When combined with new tracking services offered by some of the same companies that provide the watermarking technology, copyright owners can, in theory, find all illegal copies of their photos and music on the Internet and take appropriate legal action.

For webmasters, digital watermarking can help ensure that only lawful image and audio files are used, protecting webmasters against the dangers of copyright infringement. To understand why digital watermarking should be seen as a benefit and not a menace to webmasters, it is first important to understand what this new technology provides and what copyright law protects.

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Created: Jan. 20, 1998
Revised: Jan. 26, 1998