Digital Watermarks: Conclusion
Legitimate businesses and webmasters have nothing to fear from copyright law or the new wave of on-line enforcement technology found in digital watermarks and tracking services. By using audio files and images only when they have obtained permission of the copyright owner or the appropriate licensing agency, webmasters should be free to continue making their sites audiovisually appealing.
Scrupulous webmasters, however, should not be lulled into a false sense of security in the age of digital watermarks. While a webmaster would be wise to examine images and sound files for watermarks before incorporating them on any web site, the absence of a watermark does not necessarily mean that a file is unprotected by copyright and is therefore available for use without liability. Not only might a digital watermark have disappeared through editing or been stripped before it arrives on a webmaster's desktop, but the technology is too new to apply to a significant number of pre-existing images and audio files. Just as an author is not required to affix a copyright notice on the hard copies of his work in order to gain protection from the copyright laws, use of a digital watermark surely is a voluntary act -- and those who do not use it will not forfeit their intellectual property rights.
In addition, webmasters should remain aware that a significant portion of content on the World Wide Web -- plain old text -- may be protected by copyright even though it cannot be imbedded with a digital watermark. Copying magazine articles without permission of the copyright owner can be just as significant a copyright violation as copying photographs from the same magazine.
If anything, law-abiding webmasters should welcome digital watermarks and tracking. While Internet scofflaws have been stealing copyrighted works by scanning images, right-clicking on icons and lifting music from commercial CDs, webmasters who did not want to risk their businesses always have ensured that they used royalty-free or works in the public domain or obtained permission of the copyright owner. If nothing else, digital watermarks will deter illegal copying, leveling the playing field for all webmasters.
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Attorney Doug Isenberg practices intellectual property law in Atlanta. His practice includes many aspects of Internet-related legal issues, including domain name disputes, online copyright and trademark infringement, Web site development agreements and more. A former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, Doug's articles have appeared in various legal and computing publications. Doug is currently the editor and publisher of www.gigalaw.com. E-mail: email@example.com.
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Created: Jan. 20, 1998
Revised: Feb. 10, 2000