Invisible Watermarks

I have another copyright-related question that I think deserves its own thread. Some companies that sell public domain art that they’ve scanned warn that their images are protected by “invisible watermarks.”

I just wondered how useful this would be for protecting my images. Is it easy to create invisible watermarks? More important, is there a way they can be used to remotely track down pirated images, or would you have to spot a suspect image first, then visually inspect it for an invisible watermark?


Oh yeah, man. It’s real easy to create an invisible watermark. See, take a look at this image.

See the invisible watermark? See it? Wait…you don’t see it? Why not??? :frowning:


Wow, that’s really, incredibly funny.

If you’re being sarcastic, I didn’t mean to offend you, it’s just that invisible watermark…um…doesn’t make any sense?

Really the point of a watermark is to make it visible. That way, whenever it’s used, the watermark is there.

Wouldn’t an invisible one kind of defeat the purpose?


Although I’ll admit that was my first thought, for the web it makes sense to provide a watermark that is not visible. Much like the special ‘marks’ included in US paper money. With the right equipment the watermark can be detected and proves the origin of the work.
It seems so prevalent for images on the web to be scraped, copied, cropped, hotlinked a technology to protect the image copyright holder would be quite valuable.
The real problem comes in the enforcement and prosecution of offenders!!

And while that would be great for tracking down people who use them, it doesn’t stop them from using it, which to me, seems the most important thing to do.


One form of invisible watermark that does make sense is the digital watermarking that some file formats allow. The copyright notice is stored digitally in the image in a way that doesn’t display in the image at all but which still forms a part of the file content that can be accessed with the right program.

If someone steals such an image then it can be proved that it was your image that was stolen because of this identifying content that can only be viewed using the right program.

Presumably the actual display of the image is also tied to this text in some way so that the image will not display correctly if the digital watermark is changed.

From what I’ve learned about “invisible watermarks” so far, it sounds like they could be very effective - IF you happen to discover a stolen image. Of course, that could be difficult given the size of the Internet, especially if the image is altered. I would imagine there are many ways to mark an image and many ways to get around those marks.

Getty Images does something like this. If you try to edit their image in Photoshop (me? Tried? nooooo.), it’s unable to be done. Of course, this is easily circumvented (in a way that won’t be explained :stuck_out_tongue: )


You are absolutely correct, @TehYoyo;
And any watermarked image (visible or not) can be reproduced for use on the web quite simply; circumventing even the ‘digital signature’.

There needs to be a technology that encodes the image content in a uniquely-discernable manner. When I invent that I will be able to retire wealthy!

:open_mouth: I feel so special! :slight_smile:

I imagine that it would be placed in the metadata.

Visible watermarks are the most effective, IMO. Especially for photographs as they’re a pain to get off (if you want to). For “invisible” ones, screenshots are always accessible to anyone.


That the digital watermark prevents the image from being edited normally doesn’t surprise me - that’s the sort of functionality I’d expect it to have - that’s part of what makes it a useful complement to visual watermarks.

That there are ways to circumvent it also doesn’t surprise me. There’s nothing that computers do that can’t be bypassed with sufficient knowledge - just as long as those who know keep it to themselves then the “protection” will work. Personally I only tell people how to bypass so called protection that is trivial to bypass (eg. $200+ HTML encryption programs that can be bypassed with a small piece of JavaScript).

Wait, you can’t edit the picture in Photoshop? I’ve never had that problem in my entire life. :stuck_out_tongue:

Some you can’t edit, if they’re specially protected. Like I said, Getty Images previews have this protection. But again, easily editable if you think about it.


I found that those who use watermarks on their photos are still useless. You can easily grab them and edit the watermark off the photo. some dont even erase the watermarks and post them again.

Personally, I find it mindnumbingly dull, tedious, and annoying to edit watermarks (not that I do). Especially in high-quality photographs, I imagine it’d be painstaking to find the exact shade of red and to paint over the watermark.


The concept of invisible watermark is really good but i am thinking how would anyone get to see those watermarks if they are invisible?

Well, you see, as I mentioned in my first post, that’s why invisible watermarks defeat their own purpose.

Invisible = not seen…yeah?


The biggest issue with images online is commercial images that are copied and used without payment. Chances are most of the people who want to rip you off are going to find a way to do it. Unless you are able to devote time and money to tracking these people down who are making money off of your work (by re-selling) then it can be counter-productive (ie a GIANT waste of time and energy). All of the images I’ve seen protected in some manner I’ve been able to use or edit. So far nothing has prevented me (this I say as an interesting exercise in seeing how strong protection methods are NOT that I routinely rip off others work for my benefit). With the massive proliferation of image libraries and accessibility to digital cameras, images are easy to acquire legitimately. Where once large libraries charged hundreds for an image available for print size, you can get Joe Bloggs for $15 at iStockphoto with something just as good. Even the premium libraries have been forced to acknowledge their dominance is over by dropping their prices.

Most people who are going to pay are happy to pay to licence images. Make it easy to get paid and clear what the restrictions are and enjoy your digital content going out into the interwebz. Digital files are easily copied and don’t actually cost you anything other than a few bucks for hosting, so unless you want to spend your time in enforcement mode, just make it easy to get paid and let the good honest people pay you. It is likely that is all you were going to get in the first place.

Photoshop has allowed the reading of Digimarc invisible watermarks for as long as I can remember, but embedding them is a commercial option, the problem I think with invisible watermarking of images is that it would require image viewers / players, browsers etc to display the owner of the content that it is currently displaying otherwise as others have written the watermak has little use / benefit over embedding xmp/iptc metadata. The idea of scrapeing the internet for infirnging images is better done just through pure image recognition (tineye or etc)