Improved Water Marking

Posted on 10/2/1996 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)


Improved Water Marking

October 2, 1996

Adobe Systems has announced that it will integrate Digimarc's Imagemarc Lite
watermarking software in their version of 4.0 of Adobe Photoshop due out in

The Imagemarc technology provides a method of identifying and tracking images
without compromising their visual quality. The image must be digitized in order
to insert the watermark.

In 1995 Digimarc announced that they had developed and patented a way to embed a
unique identification code in the "noise" level of an electronic image file.
This code is repeated throughout the image. If an art director crops or
manipulates a small section of the image the code or "signature" can still be
found in that section.

This Imagemarc Lite signature was specifically designed to work when JPEG and
other lossy methods of compression are used. The Imagemarc system allows the
image creator to determine the intensity of the watermark. In our tests we
discovered that the default (mid-level) showed NO visible degradation or loss of
quality in the image. At this level the Digimarc reader can locate and identify
the watermark over 90% of the time. At the highest level it is possible to
visually discern a hint of the watermark, particularly in the highlights, but
the reader should always find the watermark at this level.

Digimarc says that technically there is a very slight flattening of the image in
certain highlight areas of watermarked images. However, this was not visually
perceptible in the images we viewed. Certainly there was not as much difference
between a digimarced file and an undigimarced file as there normally is between
a reproduction quality dupe and an original. The fact that an image has been
digimarced will in no way discourage a user from wanting to use it.

One of the most interesting things about the Photoshop 4.0 application is that
whenever anyone using Photoshop opens an image that has an Imagemarc Lite
signature the user is automatically informed that a watermark is present.
Clicking on the icon that appears will allow the user to view the image
signature carried by the watermark. Thus communicating copyright becomes a
passive and non-intrusive component of the image creation and distribution

To identify and find a way to contact the individual who owns the image the user
has the choice of faxing the number to Digimarc or going to the Digimarc home
page and entering the signature number. The user will be provided with
information about the photographer or his or her agent depending on what the
photographer has specified.

For a fee of $150 per year photographers can be assigned a unique 8 digit ID
number and place that number on as many images as they wish. There will be
special rates for agencies that want different numbers for each of their
photographers. Photographers may choose to have one number for certain images
that they handle themselves and another number for images handled by their

The fact that anyone with a copy of Photoshop can determine whether an image is
copyrighted, makes it very difficult for any user to argue that they didn't know
the images was copyrighted. Bringing an infringement action should be easier if
an image has been Digimarced.

Anyone suspecting that a printed use might be unauthorized can scan the printed
piece with any flat bed scanner and then open the new file with Photoshop 4.0 to
determine if it is digimarced. (We have not been able to test this aspect at
this writing.) If the image has a signature and the user has not paid a fee
there is absolute proof of infringement.

In the future Imagemarc Lite will integrate seamlessly with other image tools
and browsers as well.

Other features:

  • Photographers will be able to Digimarc their own images using Photoshop.
    Software to watermark files in batches will be available in November.

  • In the future it will be possible to embed private watermarks that are not
    identifiable with Photoshop in the image file along with the public watermark.
    Users will not be able to independently confirm the existence of the watermark,
    but special software will enable the photographer to demonstrate, when
    necessary, that the image has been marked with this private code.

  • While it is theoretically possible that someone could develop software to
    remove the Imagemarc Lite number there are several reasons why this will
    probably be impractical.

  1. Any such software would probably be very costly to develop and implement.
    Is it worth the cost and trouble to save a few dollars in usage fees?

  2. Because the watermark is in hundreds of locations throughout the image it
    would seem to be very difficult to remove without damaging the integrity of the

  3. The public watermark (the one identified by Photoshop) is easy to identify.
    But, it is also possible to insert a private watermark that is only known to the
    image creator. It would be very difficult for a "hacker" to be sure he had
    found all the private watermarks as well as the public one.

  4. Adobe and Digimarc are working to get legislation passed that would make it
    illegal to remove the watermark if it were to become possible.

Composite Images

The initial version of the software will allow an individual to manually select
a region of an image and check for a watermark. However, the automatic checking
devices developed so far would only find the first watermark hit in a composite
image that contained several watermarks.

In future versions of the software Digimarc plans to add support for a hierarchy
of watermarks, or at least the ability to search a composite and find all the
watermarks present. The ability to find all digimarcs in an image will be
critical in discouraging unauthorized use of elements.

The current software will not allow anyone to watermark an image that already
contains a watermark. Thus, a designer will not be able to watermark a
composite if a large portion of the composite already contains a watermark.

How Safe

The Imagemarc Lite signature will not prevent misuse of an image. But, as its
use becomes widespread it should cause most graphic artists to have second
thoughts about using part of an image without first negotiating rights. It
should deter stealing in the same way that a stronger showing of police on the
streets discourages crime.

The existence of an Imagemarc Lite watermark makes it much easier to identify an
infringer in order to prosecute. It also makes it much easier for a potential
user to locate the owner of an image and negotiate rights. Thus, it will be
very difficult to argue innocent infringement.

In over 90% of the cases an image used in a printed piece can be identified by
scanning the printed piece and examining the digital scan with Digimarc's
identifying software.

Digimarc has plans to develop software that would automatically scan Web sites
and identify those sites that have Digimarced images. They would then report
the sites that had a particular photographer's number to the copyright holder.
The copyright holder could then determine if there was a proper license for the
use, and if not pursue the infringer. The software needed for this on-line
monitoring is still in development.

While a key tool for protection is now available, it will only work if:

  1. Photographers aggressively digimarc their digital files.

  2. Producers of print catalogs digimarc all the images in these catalogs by
    inserting the digimarc signature as the separations are made. Anyone who
    decides to use an image from one of these catalogs without authorization would
    be at risk of prosecution.

  3. There is wide publicity in the graphic arts community of the risks people
    take when they use a digimarced image.

  4. There must be active prosecution of
    infringers to the point that there will be general publicity of the risk. (One
    of the greatest potential areas of misuse will be for personal and small company
    home pages on the Internet. They will have to be found, punished and the
    results publicized or this type of infringement is likely to continue.)

As digimarcing develops, I anticipate that many photographers and stock agencies
will be assisting their colleagues in identifying infringers. Often someone in
the business will know of a user who they suspect is infringing, but they have
difficulty identifying whose images this person is actually using. Now, the
identification process is greatly simplified. And it is to the advantage of all
creators to help identify any infringer, whether it is their image or not,
because active prosecution tends to discourage other potential infringers.

Those inclined to steal will at least begin to be careful to steal images that
are not digimarced. They will probably find that fewer images in printed
catalogs are digimarced than those in digital catalogs -- either CD-ROM or
on-line. On the other hand producers of printed catalogs might have their
images digimarced during the separation process. Digimarc is currently working
on software that will make it easy for separators to apply a digimarc as they
are making the separations.

This technology is likely to discourage people from stealing photos because
copyrighted work will be easy to identify and proving infringement will be much

Strategy For Use

It would seem advisable for producers of print and CD-ROM catalogs with
controlled distributions to begin digimarcing all images in their catalogs at
once, and publicizing that on the catalog. Thus, if anyone decides to scan an
image out of the catalog there is additional potential for tracking such

For on-line catalogs a visible watermark is probably still the best idea. Print
catalogs are normally supplied to people in the industry who understand the
rules. On-line catalogs are available to anyone on the internet. There are
many users of this medium who are either unfamiliar with or totally ignoring the

Because the digimarc watermark is invisible it is not likely to inhibit anyone
from using the image in the on-line environment. Until there is some type of
software that regularly searches sites on-line for digimarcs it is probably
better to use visible watermarks for catalog images on-line.

Rules for supplying feedback


Martin Evening

October 23, 1996 --

I am a London based professional photographer using digital image techniques
as a regular part of my work and am a member of The Association of
Photographers (UK) and the Digital Imaging Group (UK).
Because my work is often distributed in a digital form, I am most concerned
to identify myself as the author and to protect my copyright in the work. I
was therefore interested to hear that Adobe will be including a
watermarking system in Photoshop 4.

However, as I have learned more about
this Digimarc system, I have become more and more concerned about it.
The message below highlights our DIG group worries over digital
fingerprinting. I don't think we are alone in voicing these concerns. If you
agree that the issue of digtial copyright protection needs to be urgently
addressed and that ideally a common worldwide standard should be set, please
take the time to read the following statement.

The issues for me and my fellow members of the AoP and DIG are as follows:

1. The consensus in Europe has been towards a not-for-profit Register for the
creator IDs (across all media, not just still images). This, we believe,
conflicts with the Digimarc system which sees the issuing of registration
numbers rather than the selling of its software package as its primary
revenue stream (hence its inclusion at no cost in Photoshop 4.0). We believe
that any register of Creator IDs should be an open standard, a world-wide
asset, which any watermarking software can and should use. We believe that
only this model can ensure the long-term integrity of a single world-wide
Creator ID database.

2. The Digimarc register cannot be this world-wide asset, because:
a) Those using non-Digimarc software would be paying twice, once for their
own software and then again (annually) for the Digimarc registration
b) The Digimarc system at present includes only a Creator ID, and there is no
current provision for IDing the particular image or transaction, a
requirement much in demand especially by image libraries.
c) The Digimarc registration number is dumb code, it provides no further
information than a link to the Creator ID database, whereas our preferred
model would offer information about country of origin, creator ID, image no
and transaction no. within its code.

3. Within Photoshop 4 there is a the facility for Digimarc-ed images to place
the international copyright symbol on the title bar. As we understand it,
this is not a published call which any other watermarking software can
access. The concern is that a user opening an image in PS4 and not seeing a
copyright symbol would make the assumption that the image was not so marked,
and therefore would not look for an ID, even though one might be present.
This clearly puts users of other watermarking products at a distinct

Nor is this issue avoided by merely publishing the code to call the copyright
symbol, because the user would then be required to go through a number of
different readers, without any guidance as to which was the correct one, in
the hope that one of them would read the information from the image. In our
view this would so frustrate the average user as to make the whole issue of
watermarking an industry joke.

4. Finally, this is not a trivial matter. The issue of how to identify the
creator of images when held in a digital form is absolutely vital for the
protection of creator's livelihoods, and therefore ultimately with the
survival of our industry. We believe that there must be an open standard, in
Photoshop terms a "plug-in's plug-ins" which supports a single world-wide
register of creator IDs, and which is easily accessible to users of visual
imagery. We are surprised that Adobe, who have previously supported open
systems, should have adopted such a closed strategy. We are also surprised
that they have not engaged in wider consultation before taking this important

I would be most interested to hear your views on this subject.

Andrew Child

November 11, 1996 -- The above comment from Martin Evening, particularly item 1, is my greatest reservation
with Digimarc as well. I wonder if a
similar system can be developed which brings multiple database providers
into play and could create a competitive market-driven environment.

Although the $80-150 annual fee Digimarc is proposing is not onerous, what
would prevent them from doubling or tripling that fee if they become the
sole clearinghouse for image watermark identification?

Hugh Mackworth

November 19, 1996 --

Hugh Mackworth, President & CEO of Digimarc responds to Martin Evening's comments.

We appreciate hearing the concerns you brought up on behalf of yourself
and the Digital Imaging Group regarding the incorporation of Digimarc's
digital watermarking technology into Adobe Photoshop 4.0.

Adobe and Digimarc are dedicated to developing a system that will
effectively support the communication of copyright and image authorship. When
we heard your strong reaction to how we are proceeding, we were quite dismayed,
given the enthusiastic reactions we have received in other quarters.

We agree with you that communicating and reinforcing digital-image
copyright are important issues that will have tremendous impact on the lives
and businesses of image creators and photographers everywhere. During the
design and conception of our system, we have had extensive discussions with
your peer groups here in the US, such as the APA (Advertising Photographers
of America), ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), PACA (Picture
Agency Council of America) and the Copyright Clearance Center, which
have been extremely encouraging of both our efforts and our system. We do
apologize for not contacting your organization earlier. Had we done so,
we could certainly have prevented some misconceptions. In the meantime,
we'd like to discuss with you the issues raised in the e-mail sent to Adobe
U.K. recently.

Digimarc's service has been designed in a way that we feel brings real
value to the entire image industry. It gives image creators and distributors a
way to communicate their copyright without degrading their images, and
explore exciting commercial opportunities to market their work in innovative
ways. We feel that it can be an effective part of a worldwide standard that will
evolve as Digimarc's services and others mature.

Your group expressed particular concerns about issues around Digimarc's
Creator ID serial number. I'd like to give you a more complete
description of the system. Technological reality dictates a trade-off between the
amount of information embedded in an image and having as little impact as possible
on the quality of the image. Thus we wanted to embed a tiny code that would
uniquely describe a copyright holder.

Our system was designed as a synergistic development between our
embedding technology and our locator service. In order to achieve as wide a
distribution and usage as possible (without which a copyright
communication system would be useless), we wanted to price our software
and service as inexpensively as we could. Both this desire for wide-spread
usage and the technical requirements led us to the business model that you
see today.

There is no intention that the Digimarc locator service be closed or
that it compete with more comprehensive efforts that address other arenas,
technologies or requirements. If someone is using the Digimarc software,
then the locator service just translates the small code into information
about them.

We agree that a central world-wide copyright registry should be "an open
stand ard around which the various watermarking/fingerprinting software can
compete," and encourage its development. We are not presuming to propose
our locator service as that central point, but, as a broader registry comes
into place, we will happily interconnect with that system, pointing our small
Creator ID directly at the entry in the other registry and vice-versa if

I'd like to address some of the other points that you've raised. You
point out that our PictureMarc product only embeds a CreatorID, without any
provision for information such as a transaction or item number. To keep
things very simple for a mass-market product, that is an accurate
depiction. Digimarc has, in fact, developed a more comprehensive product that
can include information such as a transaction or item number, as might be
required by a stock photo agency or other image library system, which
will officially be introduced in the next few months. This product was
demonstrated during VISCOMM in New York City last week by an
international stock photo agency, and received a very favorable response.

You asserted that once a subscription to Digimarc's service has lapsed
for six months, Digimarc will reassign that same Creator ID to another
subscriber. The six month scenario was intended only for people who
tried the system and decided not to use it at all. We recognized the potential
for problems here, and made plans to prevent them long ago. Digimarc will
retain an individual's Creator ID for as long as he or she wishes to use the
locator service. If the creator cancels the service and any locator requests
came in at all, Digimarc will wait at least three years before redistributing
that Creator ID to another individual, but if the creator requests us to
never redistribute their ID, we will respect their wishes. Is this a
reasonable system?

You also express concern that users of other watermark/fingerprint
products will be at a disadvantage when using Photoshop 4.0 because a
copyright symbol is placed on the title bar when the software detects a
PictureMarc image. We believe that an ubiquitous and user-passive system
is the only means of ensuring that the creator's rights are protected. Please
notice that the very reason a signal is necessary is that the image has not
been visibly altered--a fact which is deemed extremely desirable by the
many image professionals with whom we have consulted. We're very proud
of this valuable and essential aspect of the Digimarc system and of Adobe's
assistance in making this feature available.

Digimarc is spearheading the effort to engage key organizations in
creating a truly effective, worldwide system for communicating copyright
and authorship. Adobe was the first visionary to perceive the value of this
system for its customers. Corel recently followed suit, and agreements with
many other organizations are close to completion, both in the US and abroad.

The Internet has created an intellectual property free-for-all that is
challenging--even threatening-- to the image industry, yet it also
presents bold and exciting possibilities for those who can step up to the
future and help shape the new environment to meet their needs. We know
we don't have all the answers and fully anticipate that both this young
technology and the related communication system will be enhanced and
refined over time. That's why feedback from organizations like AOP's Digital
Imaging Group is so valuable to us.

We would very much like the opportunity to talk with you and the D.I.G.
in person about our watermarking technology and future plans for the online
locator service.

Copyright © 1996 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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