Watermarking — Protecting Your Digital Assets From Theft

5th Kind
6 min readDec 8, 2020

Looking to protect your digital assets and secure your intellectual property? Watermarking is an essential tool in that fight. They deter unauthorized release of files by allowing them to be traced back to the person who originally had access to them. Because when files can be traced back to users, they are much more careful with not sharing them with friends or posting them online.

There are two main types of watermarks: visual and forensic. Visual watermarks are overlays or burn-ins, which means text that is permanently digitally inscribed into the file. This can be done to images or videos and can contain an individual’s name, date, company, or any combination of those inputs. Forensic watermarks, on the other hand, embed an invisible digital payload or signature.

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How Is Watermarking Done?

The most effective visible watermarking is achieved by digitally integrating text into the file itself. 5th Kind’s CORE will burn-in, or digitally “bake”, the watermark on top of the image, video, or document no matter if you’re viewing the file in a system player or downloading it. Effectively, the watermark is embedded into your file and it cannot be separated out by tools intended to remove them. Lesser watermarking systems will simply add a text overlay which can be identified as a separate object and is much easier to disable. When applying watermarks, it’s critical that the watermarking tool you use can implement the most secure method for your assets while minimizing costs and maximizing performance.

Is Digital Watermarking Effective?

In a word, very. Without a digital watermark, assets are more susceptible to being stolen and released to the public. For anyone or company with a product launch, pre-emptive thefts reduce the effectiveness of a properly executed publicity campaign that maximizes return on investment. Inventors and businesses face the loss of trade secrets. Organizations risk losing support due to their perceived lack of security. Long story short, effective watermarking is a critical element of security for all types of documents and visual assets.

So how do companies in the real world use watermarking? Well, Marvel Studios and other global enterprises create a variety of assets with down-stream distribution channels. Think toys, Happy Meals, ancillary product lines, and other supporting content. All of these files need to remain closely guarded secrets until the associated movie or product is released. These companies cannot afford to have these assets get leaked online, which could dramatically impact profits. That’s why they heavily lean on visual and or forensic watermarks to protect their valuable assets.

There are varying degrees of watermarking that different industries employ to prevent theft. An example of aggressive watermarking would be when creators at a video game studio share art concept images, such as a new character, and apply multiple text watermarks over the entire image to prevent any part of the intellectual property from leaking before the game’s launch date.

Game companies use aggressive watermarking to protect leaks of something as simple as new character designs. Image courtesy of Riot Games.

Minimal watermarking is generally used when sharing sensitive assets with high-level employees who, in their own interest, can be trusted to protect the files. In these cases, a small text watermark may appear at the bottom of the frame or file, or the text may be almost transparent — just enough to be visible but unobtrusive.

Trusted users like studio executives will have minimal watermarking to enable them to better review sensitive assets. Image courtesy of Marvel Studios.

From minimal to aggressive, watermarking is an incredibly effective method of protecting content, not only from those looking to steal IP but from run-of-the-mill fans, too. A young production assistant on a large feature film is much less likely to show his or her friends a clip from an unreleased film if their name is digitally emblazoned across the video, as opposed to just the studio’s name. And for those who are determined to steal IP despite a watermark, it makes the unauthorized release traceable back to the source, ensuring penalties ranging from job loss to prosecution.

What’s The Difference Between Visual Watermarking And Forensic Watermarking?

Chances are, you’ve probably encountered visual watermarking. After all, it’s the most common form.

Forensic watermarking, on the other hand, is an invisible, behind-the-scenes way of tracking a special asset. Think of it as a digital signature or payload hidden in the image or video. It is random, unique and unremovable. Though invisible to a viewer, forensic services can detect this watermark, allowing a security team to track the file back to whoever sent, watched or viewed it.

Forensic watermarking is used for specific workflows, particularly those using finished assets where it would be impossible or unhelpful to alter the file visually. Take a film critic, for example. This person must view the movie before its release date, but slapping a visual watermark across the entire film would detract from the viewing experience. Giving critics these embargoed assets, protected by forensic watermarks, is a win-win, aptly balancing unhindered viewing with asset security and traceability.



What Watermarking Does CORE Offer?

5th Kind’s CORE platform offers watermarking capabilities on all viewable assets, including videos, images and documents, whether these files are in the system or being downloaded from it.

  1. CORE bakes-in a watermark for files to be viewed in the system player in the web browser; on the Apple TV app; and on the Mobile app
  2. CORE bakes-in a watermark for files to be viewed in the system player:
  3. CORE offers different types of watermarks for different workflows, file types, and users.
  4. CORE also bakes-in a watermark with the recipient’s name for any files that are downloaded. A file can be sent using CORE to hundreds of recipients for download, and each will receive a downloadable file with their own name on it.
  5. Third-party forensic watermarking is also available in CORE through a custom integration with NexGuard.

Can Watermarks Be Customized Or Displayed In Different Ways?

Customize Watermark Styles By Asset Types

CORE offers watermarks in many formats and styles which can be applied to different asset types.

CORE also offers an incredible amount of flexibility when protecting assets within the platform. Depending on the asset type, it’s possible to make the watermark more secure or less secure, depending on your company protocol. Watermarks can also be customized and assigned to individual users.

Customize Watermark By User Roles

Because different users require different levels of security, CORE also provides customized watermarks for different user roles. For example, actors, directors and executives generally prefer to look at assets with minimal watermarking while vendors, coordinators and members of the press are more likely to accept a larger, more secure watermark.

CORE’s flexibility allows administrators to assign watermarks as strictly or leniently as necessary.