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How to Copyright Your Images with Digital Watermarking

Over the last decade, the Internet has turned into a landscape for a figurative arms race. No longer is it sufficient to have a plaintext website if you want to wow and win over potential customers. Digital assets - their quantity and, most importantly, quality, can make or break the first impression that transforms into a sale.

As the price of these assets continues to mount, it becomes an investment that you need to protect. If you spend $10 on an image or $50 on a short video and have it stolen, you might feel frustration and annoyance, but it is not a catastrophe. $100 & $500, $1000 & $5000 however? That’s when asset theft turns from a minor infraction to something that can damage your brand and diminish your investment. The one sure way to mitigate the damage and deter potential thieves is to use watermarks to mark a digital asset as your intellectual property.

What are Watermarks Used For?

On your travels across the web, you have probably stumbled upon the photos and images with watermarks. They look like any variation of this:

Example of how Shutterstock uses watermarks to protect its images
Image courtesy of goodmoments.pro

A semi-transparent logo or the company's name is imposed over an image designating their ownership over an asset. This example is an image owned by Shutterstock, a company that makes stock photography. Watermark guarantees that no business can use their photo for free without breaking copyright law.

Also, note the watermark's position: it is not hidden somewhere in the corner. Why is that necessary? Imagine a scenario in which a watermark is in the corner of a photo. A thief can crop the image without destroying the asset’s quality. If you want to use watermarks to protect your assets as Shutterstock does, be mindful of making it as difficult as possible to steal them.

How Watermarks Can Protect Your Brand

In the last paragraph, we’ve mentioned that it is best to impose a watermark over the entire image if you plan to use it to guard assets against others. Does that mean there are other ways in which watermarks come in handy? Absolutely!

Imagine that you have hundreds of assets in your library: images, photographs, videos, etc. Just because you can use those assets internally, does not necessarily mean that you can use them publicly. Maybe some assets haven’t been copyright cleared. Maybe you were paying a license for some, and the license just expired. Maybe some assets are just placeholders that you can never use publicly. So how do you manage to keep everything in check? You might know which assets are greenlit. Your product manager might, too. But what about the new designer, sales rep, or copywriter? The best-case scenario is that they will constantly keep bugging you about which assets they can use. The worst case is they decide to take matters into their own hands, use unprotected assets, and you’ll be facing fines, complaints, and lawsuits. That’s where watermarks come in handy once again.

Imposing a company-wide rule like “Marketing team can only use watermarked assets for their work” solves many problems that we’ve discussed just now. No more tiptoeing and second-guessing, not a single unnecessary DM more...provided that you’ve set up everything the first time. Someone must place a watermark on a photo AND remove it if needed. Sounds daunting if done manually. Thankfully, you don’t have to.

Digital Asset Management & Watermarking

There are two old-school watermarking ways. The first one is when you turn watermarks into an overlay, especially useful for external usages. Simply put, a watermark becomes a “filter” on top of a photo displayed on your website. This approach is handy for en masse watermarking as you need to make a rule to apply the said “filter” to all displayed assets. The downside is that tech-savvy thieves can get raw versions of the assets by automating overlay removal. While convenient, this approach does not offer the best protection.

The second approach is embedding the watermark onto an asset so they cannot be separated as easily. It is a more secure option but also more cumbersome. Besides the initial embedding, what happens if you need to remove or update a watermark? Not only is this a waste of your designers’ time, but it also overcomplicates your asset management, as you need to keep multiple versions of a single asset which further feeds into the chaos of accidentally using an unbranded photo or a video.

The alternative that combines the best of both worlds can be found in Digital Asset Management (DAM) software, a solution that makes any manipulations of your digital assets (including watermarking) extremely easy.

What is Digital Asset Management?

At the moment, you’re most certainly using Google Drive to store your files like images, videos, documents, and many more. It’s a good service, but it cannot tell you exactly that much about files that it keeps. It can tell you its name, type of file when the file was last modified, the basic stuff. However, it cannot tell you exciting stuff. In the case of photos, those would be things like “when and where was this photo taken”; “what does the photo depict”; “does it have your watermark on it”. This fancy information is known as metadata. Metadata turns files into assets that make them easy to search and organize. Metadata functionality is at the heart of all DAM software as it allows to create a digital library that is easy to search and use.

Say you are a travel agency, planning to make a new promo campaign advertising hot deals for ski resort trips. You’d want pictures showing people having fun skiing, snowboarding, enjoying hot chocolate by the hearth. With the DAM’s tagging feature, you can immediately access all assets that correspond to these queries if you had the foresight to add a “ski resort” tag to their metadata, for example.

Or, let’s say, you’ve just come back from a business conference in Chicago, and want to make a report using all the photos you’ve taken there. Thanks to geotagging you can directly pull all the photos that have been made at a specific location in a specific time frame, so you don’t have to bother scrolling through dozens of photos.

Modern DAM solutions, such as Pics.io, have built-in watermarking functionality that allows you to quickly add/remove watermarks from all your image assets. Here’s a play-by-play on how it would look inside Pics.io.

Step 1. Go to settings and create your watermark if you haven’t done so already. Your watermark can be either a picture or a text.

Step 2. Navigate to an image of your choice and find the watermarking toggle to add it to the chosen asset.

Aaaand...that’s that. Quite simple, isn’t it?

As an added bonus, you can restrict access only to a select few team members, so that only they will have the ability to manipulate watermarks. The same privileges settings can stop specific team members from seeing unwatermarked assets altogether, thus eliminating their ability to make mistakes entirely. If it all sounds simple to set up, that's because it is!

If you want to learn more about how watermarking works in Pics.io, make sure to visit our Help Center article that goes into more detail!

Watermarking is just one way to protect your images from theft. There are other ways, such as copyright registration or branding an image with your company's name and © symbol in any of its corners.

The first option is the most secure one as it stops all speculations about the rightful owners in their tracks. No one can accuse you of "putting your logo on top of someone else's image" if you have receipts to claim otherwise. However, it is also an option that can get too pricey and too time-consuming. Imaging trying to register hundreds of photos!

The second option is similar to watermarking but is also less secure. Copyright branding gets tucked into a corner making it exceptionally easy to crop without sacrificing the quality at all. Looks less intrusive than a properly set-up watermark but also defeats the purpose of bothering with such edits in the first place.

All in all, copyright is a complicated and serious matter, and the laws will vary by location and a type of an asset that we are talking about. If you'd like to learn more, make sure to check out our post where we take a deeper dive into complexities of copyright.

Concluding Thoughts

Watermarking your digital assets is an important part of modern business practices. Proper watermark usage mitigates asset theft and internal confusion that can lead to the loss of productivity, time, and money. Although there are many different paradigms of watermarks management, the most convenient one comes in the shape of DAM software that allows you to automate the entire process.

Thus, if you own dozens of assets and want to utilize them to their maximum potential, why not take Pics.io DAM for a spin and see if it suits your needs? It’s free to try, after all!

Curious? Learn more about Pics.io or book a demo with us and we'll answer all of your questions!

Pics.io Team
Welcome to Pics.io blog, where you'll get useful tips, resources & best practices on how digital asset management can help your business to manage & distribute digital content on top of cloud storage.