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Using a Watermark
in a Document or on an Image

Bow Porter wrote to ask if there is a way of posting her paintings and photos on a web site whereby they can't be copied by viewers, since she sells many of them commercially. Well, there are ways of disabling the "right-click, save as" option, but this won't keep viewers from copying the pictures with their "PrintScreen" key and an image-editing program. However, a "watermark" can be added to a picture to discourage viewers from copying and using it.

A watermark is usually a light gray logo or message of some kind that appears on a printed page behind the text. It is dark enough to be noticed, but light enough to not interfere with the page's legibility. Microsoft Word users can add one to a page by clicking Format>Background>Watermark and following prompts that will let them insert text or a graphic.

As for watermarking an image, programs can be bought that do it for you. However, I prefer doing it with Irfanview (free from Open the target image in Irfanview and draw a box where you want the "not to be copied" message to appear. Then click Edit>Insert Text into Selection. Choose a font and color for the message. Be sure to checkmark "Text Is Transparent," which actually means the "area around the text" will be transparent.

Unlike a traditional watermark that appears behind a page's content, the above will superimpose one over a picture. This gives a potential buyer a good idea of what the actual picture will look like, but discourages others from downloading and using it.

Bow also said she takes lots of candid photos of people on the street, at the beach, or wherever, and asked if it's legal to post a photo of someone online without asking the person's permission. Well, I'm no lawyer, but I think it's common knowledge that celebrities and politicians are fair game for both the paparazzi and amateur shutterbugs. However, I assume photographing and displaying pictures of others without permission is a gray area that would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. I've done this, but have always put up a disclaimer saying that if anyone objects I'll remove the photo unless and until I get permission to post it.

Having said that, however, we must realize that we live in a digital era whose rules regarding the copying and using of intellectual and/or graphical property are being tested in the courts every day. In the early days of, the site was sued by NBC for showing videos taped from Saturday Night Live shows without asking for permission. The suit was withdrawn, however, when NBC discovered that the videos were bringing new viewers to SNL and improving the show's slipping ratings.

Be aware, too, that anything you say in an e-mail or an IM or post on a blog can come back to haunt you. Don't assume that a message sent in confidentially to a best friend will never be seen by someone else. And if you post an original story or poem online, don't be surprised if you find it's been plagiarized. Yes, you will still own the copyright, but protecting it nowadays is not as easy as it once was.

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