Protect Yourself – Watermarking Video

Each year is a better year for online video producers like us. Why? Just look at the stats: each of us added 480 minutes of viewership last year, according to comScore, Inc, a site that follows and measure digital trends. But with ever-increasing viewership comes the potential for unwanted re-distribution. While some video is meant to be shared freely and remixed, other video is required to be safe and secure; a product that’s protected against theft.

The changing languages of the Web also play a role in protecting online video. Common video delivery now occurs over the newer HTML5 Web standard, not simply through Flash or Quicktime video players. Enter the watermark. This form of visible marking was used by ancient Greeks, who added emblems to products as a way of signifying quality. Today, watermarks are added to our video as a way to deter copyright theft and to track viewership.

Keen Videomaker readers will notice that many online video players include some sort of shaded icon known as a ‘bug’ in the lower corner of videos. That’s a visible watermark to identify the network, station or company that owns or is distributing that particular video. This article will cover using bugs and also how metadata watermarks will help protect our video even more. In addition, we’ll share details about an even-more-sophisticated, invisible watermarking technique. Watermarking helps protect our video products and adds to our online marketing efforts.

Why Watermark?

There’s little doubt that no one has gone long without being exposed to at least one form of watermark, be it a little ABC News logo on television, the YouTube name floating over the latest viral video, or a photographer’s signature in a wedding video. Watermarking is interesting to Videomaker readers for two main reasons: first, to protect our work, and second, to help advertise our services wherever our video goes. As video producers, we own the copyright on our video work – it belongs to us. And it’s up to us to protect our belongings if we so choose. However, online video can be downloaded and re-distributed by complete strangers. So, adding a watermark in the form of our name or company logo can help make our video unattractive to a digital thief.

A watermark is ingrained into our video codec (read on to see our examples), and since the mark is a nuisance to remove, others can’t easily claim our work for their own. The same watermark is also part of our viral marketing strategy. Remember those eight hours of video viewership stat? As our video is embedded online, the watermark can help potential business clients recognize our work. These viewers can instantly read our business name, or even click back to our website using the included watermark. It’s an easy, straightforward way to aid copyright protection and online video advertising.

Making a Watermark on Video

A watermark can be as simple as a lower-third title or subtitle on our video. We can also make polished, more functional watermarks using a digital image file (one that includes an alpha channel,) or even a mini-video. You’ve seen these on major broadcast television: we’re watching our favorite show, and a little animation pops up in the lower left-hand corner, advertising an upcoming show premiere. Most editing software can assist us in creating our watermark; even Windows Live Movie Maker has a basic watermarking feature.

To create a good basic watermark, open a finished video file in your editing program and add a text title. Adjusting the text’s opacity down to around 70 percent allows the watermark to be read, but doesn’t completely obstruct your great video. Adding a drop shadow helps give the mark a three-dimensional look. Then adjust its size, choose its color, and relocate it to a corner (bottom-right tends to work best.) Think about using particular colors for a rough draft, final draft and revisions to hand to a client.

Adding a logo isn’t much different, just make sure you or your graphic designer has saved the digital logo with a functioning alpha channel. In your editor, add your logo to a second layer above an existing finished video, and adjust the composite mode. Professional editing programs such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Sony Vegas Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro allow for a host of compositing features, which allow you to fine-tune the look of your logo watermark. Additional video apps such as Sorenson Squeeze, Apple Compressor, and Telestream Episode offer watermarking abilities upon video compression. These are streamlined solutions for watermarking lots of videos at one time, saving hard drive space (you’re not required to make another high-quality master video; the mark is added only to the Web version), and the apps keep your editing program free of extraneous watermark graphics.

Adding a motion graphic or a mini-video gives the watermark a new meaning. One way of adding a motion watermark is to add a video via green screen over your finished video in your program. Resize the green screened video to take up a small portion of the video frame, and key out the green screen. You’ll now have your person, dog or 3D logo (or whatever video element you choose!) playing in the corner just like the television stations do. Finally, before placing your watermark, research your distribution destinations (online video sites) to see if their own video player automatically adds a watermark upon upload – it could obstruct your own.

An Invisible Watermark: Metadata and Beyond

Many Videomaker readers have already made an invisible watermark, without knowing it. That’s because many of today’s prosumer and professional camcorders include metadata in their recordings. This metadata exists inside the video, and includes a line of code for a copyright holder (along with clip number, camera make/model and location coordinates). If you’re a DV/HDV shooter, metadata can be thought of as very extensive user bits. Metadata can be transferred to select editing programs, edited, and added into online video hosted on your personal website. Stand-alone metadata editors are available as well, such as XnView.

Be forewarned – video gets its metadata wiped clean when uploaded to some popular video sharing sites. A great way to keep metadata intact is to host a protected QuickTime movie or WMV file on your website. Both of these file-types have distinct metadata fields for copyright. Even after compression, your copyright data stays put. Luckily, online video players such as JW Player Pro ($89) and Viddler Business ($100/month) allow copyright protection and some metadata to carry over, too. JW Player allows copyright and watermarking information to be compressed into a custom player, which also allows for a custom visible watermark to be added. Online video publisher Viddler protects against unwanted downloads while video is streaming, and allows users to track where their video is being embedded and who is viewing. Viddler also adds value to viral video marketing by allowing videos to link directly back to a producer’s website, instead of Services from both JW Player and Viddler are robust, but protecting video doesn’t stop there.


Digital fingerprinting aims to be the highest form of copyright protection. Similar to steganography, the method of inserting text into an image or video, digital fingerprinting adds custom code to the video compression. It’s an invisible, indelible watermark. While it is not quite DRM (Digital Rights Management), fingerprinting is still a niche market. Audible Magic, Vercury, YUVsoft and Oculus VisionTech Inc. offer high-end copyright protection that adds a little extra bit of data into frames of video. If a video is stolen or repurposed, the unique ‘fingerprint’ can be traced. This method of copyright protection is so secure, that even converting the video to analog, resizing, and adding effects won’t shake the fingerprint. Thus, your video can still be identified. For instance, if a 1080p video file is downloaded from your website, cropped down to 480p and uploaded to YouTube (YouTube recompresses video into a variety of flavors), your fingerprint will still be recoverable. But why go through all of the extra steps and costs? Well, even visible watermarks and metadata can be removed, with enough effort. Some watermarks can be cropped out of the video frame, and metadata isn’t yet robust enough to stick to video through multiple re-encodes. If your client’s video (property) includes trade secrets or sensitive information and is compromised, that’s a big deal!


With more viewership, video formats and online video players increasing more than ever, protecting video should certainly be on the mind of the video producer. There are a host of options, including visible watermarking, metadata and digital fingerprinting. Educate your clients on their options, and let them dictate how secure they need it to be.

Effective video protection can also lead to a positive byproduct: viral marketing. The metadata and watermarks help track who your audience actually is, so that you can offer a better service or product. However, the online video industry was practically birthed out of copyrighted material posted to the Web, such as YouTube’s early days, where many TV shows and movies appeared illegally on the site. Part of the growing video viewership is from social sharing, where video media is the least protected. And with mature, alternative copyright licenses like Creative Commons, there is a strong argument for increased share-ability.

Sidebar: HTML5

Online video is shifting toward a new universal standard: HTML5. Big video distributors like YouTube have allowed a number of our videos to be played back using HTML5 already, but have not jumped on board 100 percent. This is due to disputes over what codecs should be included in the HTML5 standard. H.264? WebM? Ogg? Each is vying for the all-important spot. If H.264 is not included, it could go away as HTML5 is adopted.

Andrew Burke works as an online media strategist and video producer.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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