The Invisible Digital Watermarking Saga: A Journey Through Time

Image tracking technology

November 20, 2023

The Invisible Digital Watermarking Saga: A Journey Through Time


<div class="hs-cta-embed hs-cta-simple-placeholder hs-cta-embed-127250935564"
 style="max-width:100%; max-height:100%; width:170px;height:300px" data-hubspot-wrapper-cta-id="127250935564">
 <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener" crossorigin="anonymous">
   <img alt="EXCLUSIVE REPORT   150 executives share their views about Visual Asset Leaks in their business" loading="lazy" src="" style="height: 100%; width: 100%; object-fit: fill"
     onerror="'none'" />

Share this article

Subscribe to the blog!

I subscribe

Digital watermarking, the practice of embedding invisible marks or codes into multimedia content for purposes of identification and protection, has a rich history dating back to the mid-20th century. Originally conceived as a means of proving ownership and preventing piracy, digital watermarking has undergone significant evolution and innovation, becoming a cornerstone in the management and distribution of digital content.

Annual number of papers published on watermarking and steganography by the IEEE.
Infographic of History of Digital Watermarking

The Early Years of Watermarking

The roots of digital watermarking can be traced back to the pioneering work of Emil Hembrooke in 1954, when he patented a method for embedding identification codes into music (Hembrooke, 1961)[1]. Hembrooke's invention laid the foundation for a field that would blend technology with intellectual property management. At its core, digital watermarking was initially developed as a tool to address concerns related to the unauthorized use and distribution of digital content.

Hembrooke's patent
Hembrooke's patent involved adding an intermittent, almost invisible Morse-coded signal to a vinyl record using a mechanical device within the inaudible 1Hz frequencies.

The 1990s: A Surge in Interest

The 1990s marked a pivotal turning point for digital watermarking. This surge in interest was largely fueled by the rapid proliferation of digital media and the internet, which raised significant concerns about copyright infringement. Industry groups like the Copy Protection Technical Working Group (CPTWG) and the Strategic Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) were established during this period, underscoring the need for robust digital rights management systems (Cox et al., 2002)[2].

During this era, digital watermarking emerged as a promising solution to safeguard intellectual property in the digital realm. The technology offered the potential to embed hidden information within multimedia content, allowing content creators and distributors to assert ownership and protect their assets.

Commercial Applications and Research Progress

Digital watermarking found applications in various domains, including transaction tracking, proof of ownership, and broadcast monitoring. Its adaptability to different media types, including audio, video, and images, made it an invaluable tool in commercial and security applications.

Academic research played a vital role in advancing digital watermarking techniques. Researchers tackled challenges related to fidelity, robustness, and security, aiming to refine and enhance watermarking methods. Their contributions were instrumental in making digital watermarking a more reliable and effective technology.

The rise in published papers on digital watermarking in the early 2000s shows growing industry interest due to expanding practical applications and challenges.

Watermarking in the Digital Era

As the digital age continued to evolve, digital watermarking expanded beyond its original purposes. It found applications in areas such as broadcast monitoring, device control, and enhanced media interaction. Companies began leveraging watermarking to bridge the gap between traditional and digital media, offering innovative services like song identification through watermarked audio and linking to associated online content.

The Future of Watermarking

Looking ahead, the potential of digital watermarking remains vast. Advancements in technologies like machine learning and blockchain are poised to open new avenues for watermarking applications. These developments may lead to novel use cases in content authentication, blockchain-based rights management, and enhanced interactive media experiences.

The integration of watermarking with emerging technologies could offer unprecedented levels of security and interactivity, transforming the way we engage with digital content. As we enter an era where AI-generated content becomes increasingly prevalent, digital watermarking is set to play a crucial role in distinguishing authentic content from that generated by artificial intelligence.

Furthermore, the ongoing standardization efforts in watermarking technology hold promise for its widespread adoption. While challenges related to security and standardization persist, the value of watermarking in content protection and management is undeniable.


From its modest beginnings in the mid-20th century to its current status as a cornerstone of digital content management, digital watermarking has significantly shaped the digital landscape. Its evolution mirrors the technological advancements and changing needs of content protection, management, and the verification of content authenticity.

Digital watermarking's journey underscores its importance in safeguarding intellectual property and ensuring the integrity of digital content in an era marked by rapid technological progress and the growing prevalence of digital media.


[1] Hembrooke, E. F. (1961). Identification of sound and like signals. United States Patent 3004104.

[2] Cox, I. J., Miller, M. L., & Miller, M. L. (2002). The First 50 Years of Electronic Watermarking. EURASIP Journal on Applied Signal Processing, 2002(2), 126–132.

photo : The photograph of Lena, a Swedish model whose name was originally spelled as Sjööblom, was taken in 1972. This image has become an industrial standard used for testing image processing algorithms.

Learn more about IMATAG's solution to insert invisible watermarks in your visual content.

Want to "see" an Invisible Watermark?

Learn more about IMATAG's solution to insert invisible watermarks in your visual content.

Book a demo

These articles may also interest you

Understanding the Security Risks in Digital Watermarking

Image tracking technology

January 23, 2024

Understanding the Security Risks in Digital Watermarking

See more
8 Examples of Using Forensic Watermarking for Image Protection

Image tracking technology

August 1, 2023

8 Examples of Using Forensic Watermarking for Image Protection

See more
Understanding the Differences in Forensic Watermarking for Audio, Video, Images, and Digital Files

Image tracking technology

August 8, 2023

Understanding the Differences in Forensic Watermarking for Audio, Video, Images, and Digital Files

See more

Subscribe to the blog!

By submitting this form, I agree to Imatag Privacy Policy.