• This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn more.

Policing copyright on a small scale...

...or rather, how to protect intellectual property.
My Wife has, within the last few months, engaged herself in the starting up of a Wedding Stationery business. Nothing much to start with - just the part-time creation of personalised hand-made bits and pieces from 'Save the Date's to invitations to table plans etc, basically serving a wedding from start to finish, to earn a bit of stay-at-home pocket money.
However, using Facebook and word-of-mouth as her only forms of promotion, the last 6 months have seen this thing blow up out of all her expectations. 600+ likes on Facebook and enquiries coming in on a daily basis. So I suggested that as best as possible (bearing in mind I work pretty much full time as an artworker), I'd step in and help. My levels of dexterity are next to none unless I have a mouse in my hand, so I put together some printed ideas for her to punt about. These were pretty well received too, and now the majority of her business is based on the creation of these items. And this is where she (we) has run into problems...
Regarding hand made stuff, you supply a sample for approval and as it's a 3D product, to copy it would be a real effort on the part of the customer. For the printed stuff, that's more difficult to control. Up until now, samples have been provided as PDFs (containing medium res jpegs so no text can be copied), emailed to the customer, watermarked to discourage any wrongdoing. However it has turned out, upon having supplied such a visual to a customer, after they went quiet on us and after subsequent investigation, lo and behold their wedding stationery was sent out with the word 'sample' splashed across it - they'd just used it as a master to copy and print it out themselves, although they'd tried their best to touch it out (obvioulsy got a Nephew with a copy of Microsoft Paint!).
So now she's going down the route of asking people for up-front deposits (£25) which is then included in part of the overall cost of the job when it's delivered. However, that's not going to stop potential pirates as even £25 is very cheap for a set of bespoke invites! I thought of supplying proofs of these invites as photos, as opposed to any kind of flat watermarked items, but that doesn't give any real idea of colours or fine detail. And asking people to stump up the full amount prior to starting a job isn't remotely feasible.
And of course, because it's a one-off and personal event (as opposed to being ripped off by a company who pass the work off as their own for monetary gain within the public domain), short of rolling up and declaring the marriage null and void at the altar, how do you prove that after someone says "sorry, not quite what we're after - goodbye", they ARE using the artwork you supplied them with, albeit as a proof?
Plus, she want to sell this stuff all over the country, so I'm b*ggered if I'm travelling all the way up to The Midlands to try to get to the bottom of things. So (if you're still with me):
How would you tackle the problems of (a) providing a customer with the best quality proofing material possible and (b) still maintaining a level of self-protection to prevent yourself getting ripped off?
Your input would be gratefully appreciated. Thank you.


Staff member
It's part of the problem with the 'online' world we work with these days unforunately
Probably the quickest way and I'd suggest getting a lawyer to write something up is probably to make them sign (pretty sure an email agreement is ok these days too) an agreement before sending out the samples saying something along the lines of if you use them, even in an altered form like the sample, then you're liable for the full cost etc.
You'd have small claims to fall back on etc if I'm not mistaken.
I know you can password pdf's to stop you from editting and printing them too iirc, although I've got around it to edit a pdf (not a password breaker either) before for my mum, she bought the pdf but wanted a bit changing to make it more suitable for her intended use at school as it wasn't exactly what she wanted but close enough to tweak.
It is a lot more effort than just opening and changing the file in paint etc and would likely put a lot of people off trying it.


Staff member
Off the top of my head I can't really think of anything more than what you're doing.
Can't believe they used the "sample" image. Some people?
That does sound pretty sticky.
I think that as you make people pay a 50% deposit (or something similar) it should discourage those who are trying to get a cheap invite. There are always going to be the odd person that try everything to get around the system. If you feel that you cant trust a particular customer (1st timer that is) maybe send a low (like half the printable size) res jpg with a watermark that covers the whole design (and says something like 'this is a sample product' - still can't believe they printed that one out though....
Suggestion like this maybe?
You basically need a pdf that you can't unlock and change the security on and that self destructs after 2 hours.

There is a bit about something similar in this thread.


This is someone's work around.

' One thing you can do is to "cover" the PDF pages with an opaque watermark, then use a script to uncover the PDF for a period. This is not a perfect method, but it is fail safe. Meaning that if JavaScript is turned off or it is opened in a 3rd party viewer, the content will be hidden. I'll have a turorial/example on this topic at www.pdfscripting.com. It'll be a free promotional item later at the end of this month.'

You would think that adobe would have worked something it solve this issue into acrobat.

Or just give them a 1/5 size jpeg at 50dpi that is watermarked.
1) If they still use the medium resolution watermarked images, then I would make the resolution even lower.

2) If the design contains text, then you can use a random "lorem ipsum..." text on the sample or just scramble the letters to keep the word lengths the same.

3) Fotolia.com uses small watermarked images and allows people to zoom in on different areas of the image.
Perhaps this would work for you?

4) When the image is on your site, you can block right-click with Javascript and perhaps it is possible to block screenshots as well.
Regular users probably wouldn't know how to get around that.

5) You could make the file accessible just once and you could make PHP display the image and only when it has received a $_POST variable. The visitor would have to click on a button, to see the image, and if he tries to download it, then the script would receive no $_POST variable and would show a blank file.

6) You could also use Flash on your website, that loads the image from your server. Then you can write some code to allow access to the image only through your site, so that when they download the .swf file, it wouldn't show anything. Flash can actually be made to block keyboard commands (like "Print Screen").

If all that fails, then just use this method: