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Many clients are unclear about the definition of watermarks and trademarks, and how both “marks” can affect their business. So we’ve provided a simple explanation of these protective measures.

Q: My first proof looks great, except there’s a large watermark across the photo. Will that print?

watermarks and trademarks: a thief is stealing the Mona Lisa, which is highly protectedA: Only if you steal the photo. Digital watermarks are anti-theft devices, like those hard plastic thingies that the store clerk “forgets” to remove so she can enjoy your embarrassment when the alarm goes off as you exit the store. Watermarks are embedded in stock images so you can “try before you buy” but can’t “display before you pay.” All stock photo companies put watermarks on their pictures to keep people from using them without paying.

Designers typically won’t purchase a photo until the client approves it. Once you give the go-ahead, the designer makes the purchase and downloads the photo, watermark-free. Your final proof should not have a watermark. That proof should look exactly as you envision the finished project. If you see a watermark on a printed piece, it means the designer either stole the picture or forgot to substitute the paid version. Either way, it’s a big boo-boo.

Q: What is the difference between a registered trademark (®) and a trademark (™)?

A: The ® symbol means that the product name, image, design or company name beside it has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and is owned by someone. The owner has some rights over use of the registered thing. And the official ® gives the owner some advantages if there’s a question of trademark infringement.

A ™ is different. Anyone who creates a product, image, design or name may claim it with a ™. No registration is required. Go forth and trademark!