Forensic watermark applications enhance a content owner’s ability to detect and respond to misuse of its assets. Forensic watermarking is used not only to gather evidence for criminal proceedings, but also to enforce contractual usage agreements between a content owner and the people or companies with which it shares its content. It provides positive, irrefutable evidence of misuse for leaked content assets.

Watermarking can also complement digital rights management (DRM) in many situations, by balancing content owner copyrights with consumer fair use allowances. Watermarking can be effectively used with no restrictions on playback devices to maximize content promotional opportunities. Watermarking requires no costly recipient-support infrastructure requirements, post-delivery or ongoing support activities.


At the least, a forensic application embeds the identity of a recipient into an asset copy at the time it is produced or transmitted. Sophisticated forensic applications embed situational metadata such as transmission time, received format, and recipient IP address. Some watermark applications embed a distinct forensic watermark at each stage of content distribution, enabling pinpoint accuracy.

When a leak is discovered or suspected, the forensic watermark retrieved from the leaked copy identifies the intended recipient and provides evidence — in the form of situational metadata — that the copy was delivered to its intended destination. The evidence can be used to trigger contractual provisions or as legal evidence in a criminal action.


Simply knowing that a digital asset contains an embedded recipient identifier is enough to deter misuse by certain recipients. In 2008, the DWA commissioned a study on the piracy deterrent effects of watermarking. The results show that while forensic watermarking might not reduce piracy as a criminal enterprise, it has a significant reducing effect on casual piracy-incidental sharing within social groups and through user-generated content facilities.

Use of digital watermarking for forensics and piracy deterrence helps companies…

  • Create a powerful deterrence from leaking controlled content either maliciously or unintentionally
  • Quickly and accurately identify the source of leaked content
  • Provide irrefutable evidence of content misuse in support of legal action
  • Gain visibility over where and how their content is being accessed without the need of a complete DRM system to restrict access


Example of Digital Watermark Embed Upon Projection

Learn More

  • Download “Digital Serial Numbers and Piracy Deterrence — The Deterrent Effect of Digital Serial Numbers on Illegal File-Sharing and Downloading” White Paper (PDF, 200kb)
  • DWA White Papers

Member companies who offer, “Forensics and Piracy Deterrence,” solutions:

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