Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions about digital watermarking.


What is digital watermarking?
Digital watermarking is the process by which identifying data is woven into media content such as images, movies, music or programming, giving those objects a unique, digital identity that can be used for a variety of valuable applications. Imperceptible to the human senses yet easily recognized by special software detectors, a digital watermark remains constant even through recording, manipulation and editing, compression and decompression, encryption, decryption and broadcast — without affecting the quality of the content.

What is the Digital Watermarking Alliance?
The Digital Watermarking Alliance is an international group of industry leading organizations that was formed in 2006 to promote the value of digital watermarking to content owners, industry, policy makers and consumers.

With movies, music and photos increasingly being distributed and shared digitally across numerous mediums, and printed value documents such as IDs and financial instruments at risk to counterfeiting, fraud and theft, protecting the rights and integrity of these assets and enabling legitimate uses has become critical. At the same time, consumers are demanding instant access to entertainment content - any time, any place and in any format.

Recognizing this critical juncture in the digital revolution, the Digital Watermarking Alliance (DWA) has been formulated by leading organizations to advocate for digital watermarking solutions that will protect and identify content while enabling the freedom and mobility that is expected by today's consumer.

The Digital Watermarking Alliance is made up of 15 organizations that are successfully delivering digital watermarking technology and solutions to various markets, including media and entertainment, state and national governments, mobile communications and other commercial markets. Members include: AquaMobile, Civolution, Digimarc (Nasdaq: DMRC), ISAN-IA, MarkAny, Media Science International, Université catholique de Louvain, and Verimatrix.

What key policies or issues could be supported by digital watermarking?

  • In 2005, the U.S. Copyright Office embarked on a study of the issues raised by "orphan works" — copyrighted works whose owners may be impossible to identify and locate. Typically, such works are excerpts or newly digitized versions of books, movies, photos, and music whose ownership information has been stripped away or lost during distribution, re-formatting or editing. A digital watermark embedded within a piece of content can carry a persistent copyright owner identifier that can be linked to information about the content owner and copyright information in an associated database or to appropriate usage rules and billing information.
  • Congress's "analog hole" legislation is also known as the Digital Transition Content Security Act of 2005. This legislation is designed to plug the "analog hole," the problem whereby the rights associated with creative works such as movies or TV shows are lost or removed during analog-to-digital conversion or consumption of that content. The bill effectively proposes the rights assertion mark (a form of digital watermarking) be used as a form of content protection.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster identified digital watermarking as a technology that can be used by rights holders and file-sharing networks to deter piracy and illegal use of copyrighted entertainment content.
  • Distributed Computing Industry Association's (DCIA) P2P Digital Watermarking Working Group was formed to advocate for the use digital watermarking as an effective tool for identifying copyrighted entertainment content, including music, movies and images, for the purpose of deterring copyright infringement.

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Mobile Commerce

How does digital watermarking work with mobile devices?
Digital watermarking can enable every piece of printed material to be a personalized hyperlink to dynamic internet content or transactions delivered directly to a smart camera phone or PDA. Once viewed on a mobile device, that information can be instantly shared with other mobile users. Wireless service providers can take advantage of this application to offer new and enhanced services that allow their customers to use smart camera phones and PDAs to interact with digitally watermarked print materials, including tickets, software and entertainment packaging, trading cards, magazines and game tokens.

How is this different from devices that read barcodes on products?
While both technologies link print to corresponding online material, digital watermarks have many benefits over UPCs and barcodes.

  • Digital watermarks are nearly imperceptible digital codes embedded into content in a way the viewer's eye can't see them but a computer or image capture device can detect them. In effect, they are like "invisible barcodes."
  • Digital watermarks bridge print and digital worlds without adding new materials to the watermarked object. There's no magnetic stripe, no visible barcodes, no long URLs.
  • Digital watermarks are imperceptible and don't scar otherwise highly designed packages and media. They do not alter the content they inhabit.
  • Digital watermarks can mark whole objects. Physical or digital objects can be wallpapered with watermarks so even if the object is ripped or partially destroyed, it can still be read.
  • Digital watermarks have a wider range of applicability than barcodes and can connect all physical and digital media. Digital music, for instance, cannot be barcoded. Nor can digital video. Any media, however, can be watermarked. And as media is increasingly provided to consumers in a digital format, this will become extremely important.

How are digital watermarks embedded into printed pages?
Digital watermarks are embedded into printed images during the pre-press image preparation process using standard image-editing software.


Broadcast Monitoring

What are digital watermarks and how are they used in broadcast monitoring?
Digital watermarks are imperceptible codes inserted into broadcast video and audio that can be detected through the use of specialized hardware or software. They enable the accurate tracking of content when it is distributed and broadcast. These watermarks allow precise tracking of broadcast content which serves as a broadcast management tool, providing valuable information to content owners, producers, post-production houses and broadcasters. The use of digital watermarks enables content rights-holders to know where, when, and for how long their content airs, and can be reported with additional information such as identification of the content producer, time and date of production, etc.

How is digitally watermarked content tracked?
Digitally watermarked content is tracked through a broadcast verification service that utilizes special hardware and software housed in monitoring stations in a variety of locations across the world.

Why do content owners have the need to monitor broadcast material?
Content owners use broadcast monitoring services to exercise control over creative assets, manage and protect content, manage decision-making and for campaign planning processes. Content owners have a need for their content to be accurately tracked in order to gain a precise understanding of how their creative material performs in the broadcast marketplace.

How does the programming industry use broadcast monitoring services?
Programmers use broadcast monitoring services to ensure contractual accountability, determining if specific programming aired in its entirety and according to schedule; as a promotional analysis tool to track television, movie and radio promotions; and for asset protection, providing undisputed legal verification of ownership.

How does the news industry use broadcast monitoring services?
News organizations use broadcast monitoring services for inventory control and asset management. Broadcast monitoring can be used as a management decision tool enabling news producers, stations and networks to determine which items to feed to affiliate stations, and as a proof of performance tool determining which clients air specific news segments.

How does the advertising industry use broadcast monitoring services?
Broadcast monitoring services are used by advertisers to confirm ads aired according to contract and in their entirety, allowing advertisers the ability to calculate campaign effectiveness and return on investment and perform campaign analysis in order to maximize promotional impact.

How does the motion picture industry use broadcast monitoring services?
Broadcast monitoring services can be used in the motion picture industry to protect theatrical movie releases from content piracy, and to compute royalties owed to actors.

How are broadcast monitoring services used in rights management and asset protection?
Broadcast monitoring enables content owners to identify the misappropriation of broadcast assets, providing intellectual property protection and undisputed legal verification of ownership.

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Digital Rights Management and Supporting Fair Use

What is the analog hole and how does digital watermarking secure it?
While the entertainment industry may be moving towards an all-digital future environment, analog connections to the hundreds of millions of conventional televisions, VCRs and the like will remain for a long time to come. In addition, the ultimate consumer, human beings, will receive audio and video with their analog ears and analog eyes forever. This presents a problem in that digital devices can capture and digitize unprotected analog signals, easily circumventing current copy protection mechanisms. This issue, dubbed the "analog hole," is a major source of unauthorized duplication and/or redistribution.

Entertainment industry leaders have expressed their concerns about this problem in Congressional hearings. For example, Richard Parsons, CEO of AOL Time Warner, described the issue in Congressional testimony: "Video content, even when delivered digitally in a protected manner, must be converted to an unprotected analog format to be viewed on the millions of analog television sets in consumer homes. Once content is 'in the clear' in analog form, it can be converted back into digital format which can then be subject to widespread unauthorized copying and redistribution, including over the Internet. This problem applies to all delivery means for audiovisual content, from DVDs to pay per view to over the air broadcasts."

What is Congress's involvement in the standard setting for copy protection?
Copyright laws are a balance between content owner and user rights, and any related protection system should reflect this balance as well. Digital watermarks can facilitate this balance by providing a means to embed copy control information into the content. This information becomes a persistent part of the content, remaining with the content as it is distributed and otherwise processed in various digital and analog formats. Because the digital watermark does not "lock up" the content like encryption or digital containers, it can accommodate changes in policy that may occur over time.

Congress would like to see industry choose its own technology standards; however, if industry is unable to achieve this, the government is considering copy protection legislation that could specify copy protection standards.

Digital watermarking is uniquely suited for early adoption as it merely identifies content and enables implementation of copyright policy, and does not interfere with consumer rights or interests in the absence of policy judgments.

Why would consumers want content that is digitally watermarked?
Digital watermarking technology balances the need for security with the need for the best possible consumer experience. The idea is to not affect normal use and to preserve the ability to use legacy content and systems already in place, while acting as a barrier to illegal usage. In addition, digital watermarks can be used to enhance the consumer experience by identifying content and linking it to related information.

Digital watermark technology can be used to link video content to usage rights, billing information, and related data about the content - thus helping to manage and enhance the user experience.

Can digital watermarking support fair use by consumers?
Yes, digital watermarking is a technology that can identify content to support a variety of usage and business models and as such is a policy enabler.

Isn't encryption a better security technology than digital watermarking?
The best security solution takes a layered approach, where complementary technologies are layered together to form a more complete defense. Digital watermarking and encryption provide the best security when working together.

Encryption is similar to locking the content in a safe and typically protects content from high-speed digital copying. Digital watermarking is similar to persistently labeling (i.e. searing) invisible identification, copy protection or security information onto the content.

As such, if you allow people access to the content inside the safe, someone could easily take it or copy it. A digital watermark, on the other hand, is embedded into the fabric of the content and remains with it as content is viewed, displayed, played, or printed. Therefore, the watermark protects and enhances the content while outside the encryption packager (i.e. digital safe).

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Forensic Watermarking for Consumer Media Devices

How does forensic watermarking directly benefit the system operator?
Forensic watermarking in consumer media devices, such as set-top boxes, personal computers and portable video players, provides a way for system operators to monitor the integrity of their conditional access system and provide early warning of when they need to renew the security. System operators that can demonstrate an ability to monitor the integrity of their DRM and conditional access systems will be in a better position to obtain content that can generate higher revenue streams.

How does forensic watermarking impact the consumer?
The insertion or presence of a forensic watermark has no perceptible impact on the viewing experience and does not limit the users' ability to time shift or location shift their viewing experience. It specifically targets pirates that broadly distribute illegal copies as well as illegal subscribers of the system operators' services.

How will forensic watermarking solutions be deployed?
Forensic watermarking is a natural complement to digital rights management and conditional access systems (DRM /CA Systems).

Can pirates eliminate forensic watermarks once they have been inserted in the content?
As forensic watermarking threatens to expose content pirates and illegal subscribers, the forensic watermarking system must be highly robust to withstand attempts by pirates to remove the watermark. As pirates are able to adapt and vary their attack methods over time the forensic watermarking system must also be capable of adapting over time. This is true for the insertion analysis and mechanisms as well as the associated recovery algorithms.

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ID Security

What are digital watermarks and how do they protect state driver licenses?
Digital watermarks are covert digital security features that transform multiple, previously passive elements of driver licenses, such as photo and artwork, into machine-readable security tokens. When applied as a covert layer of security to driver licenses, digital watermarks enable fast, machine-readable authentication of IDs. The features are imperceptible to humans, but read by computers or other devices enabled with special secure software.

How many IDs and driver licenses carry digital watermarks?
In 2008, more than one in three driver licenses issued in the U.S. will be digitally watermarked.

Who benefits from protecting the state's driver license with digital watermarks?
Digital watermarking provides a covert, machine-readable layer of security that offers DMVs and other issuers of secure IDs a powerful new weapon in the fight against digital counterfeiting, identity theft, fraud and related activities such as underage drinking and driving. These new security features also have national security implications as they can be used to address many of the ID-related Homeland Security issues highlighted by the REAL ID Act and 9/11 Commission Report.

What is the reader device? How will people know the cards are watermarked?
Digital watermarks are covert and machine-readable security features. The type of reader device will depend on the state's requirements and the inspection environment. As a covert security feature, the presence of the digital watermark will be authenticated only by authorized personnel or inspectors using secure software and reader devices.

Do digitally watermarked driver licenses look any different?
A driver license design is not impacted by digital watermarking, which is imperceptible to the human eye. The feature does not require any additional/dedicated space or visible elements on the card given its covert nature. Therefore, the card design is not impacted.

How do digital watermarks stop driver licenses, IDs and value documents from being counterfeited?
Digital watermarks create a highly effective security layer on these documents that cannot be easily replicated thus creating a barrier to counterfeiting. Digital watermarks are imperceptible to human eye, but contain information that can be detected by machines that enable ID inspectors to determine the authenticity of documents. For example, the presence and matching of data across multiple digital watermarks or other machine-readable security devices can alert inspectors or law enforcement officials as to whether the driver license is authentic or counterfeit, from what issuing authority it came, and whether the photo has been swapped. It can also indicate and audit whether a cardholder is of appropriate age without compromising the cardholder's privacy at the point of inspection. Additionally, the digital watermark acts as a forensic tool enabling law enforcement to identify methods of counterfeiting and offering evidentiary data.

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Image Copyright Communication

Why do Microsoft or other suppliers of imagery want to digitally watermark their images?
Microsoft is one of many content owners to embed digital watermarks in images as a means to communicate and protect image copyrights. This ensures that image users or licensees are acting in compliance with guidelines and allows legal departments to effectively communicate and enforce image copyrights.

How does image watermarking work?
Digital watermarking weaves a unique and imperceptible identifier into images that enables communication of copyright ownership, while a sophisticated tracking system monitors the Internet and specified URLs, locating digitally watermarked images and delivering reports to image and brand owners. This ensures that image users or licensees are acting in compliance with guidelines and allows legal departments to effectively communicate and enforce image copyrights.

Users of digitally watermarked images can check for copyright information or connect to additional opportunities by reading the digital watermark carried by the image. Digital watermarks can be read through the digital watermark reader plug-in found in many popular image editing applications, including Adobe® Photoshop®.

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