E-Signatures, Digital Signatures, Digital Watermarks… What’s The Difference?

You’re going to welcome all types of people to your experience – and, let’s face it, they’re not all going to be the most organised or attentive customers. There are going to be days when your guests don’t seem to know their right foot from their left.
On those days, you need to know that your waivers have every security measure in place, every question foolproofed, and complete compliance with E-Sign law.

Regulatory and insurance entities are constantly assessing how you deliver instructions to your customers and guarantee that they understand them, so E-Sign law is nothing to blink at! There are significant differences between e-signatures, digital signatures, and digital watermarks, and it’s important to know how they compare if you’re thinking of using them in your business.

What is E-Sign Law?

A huge majority of companies opt to use e-signatures for their documents. These e-signatures are protected under the US Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), which states an electronic signature is “an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record” (15 U.S. Code § 7006).

Insurance providers also prefer e-signatures as – unlike paper – digital documents cannot perish, get lost or wet, and can be easily recalled in a database.

How are different electronic documents secured?

There are three main types of ways electronic documents can be validated.

1) An Electronic Signature

Wherewolf customers see this one a lot!
This is used to sign electronic documents. It is a way to show that the signer has approved the contents of the document, and can be used (usually alongside the signer’s date of birth, email, and name) to verify the identity of the signer. Electronic signatures are protected under the E-Sign Act in the United States.

2) A Digital Signature

Digital signatures use cryptography to authenticate the integrity of a document. Usually, a digital certificate or stamp is issued by third-party software to validate that the document hasn’t been altered or tampered with since being signed.

3) A Digital Watermark

A watermark is a code that is embedded into a digital file so that the copywriter owner can be identified. It is often used to protect intellectual property and prevent copyright infringement. Similarly, this method can also demonstrate that a file has not been tampered with post-signature. The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), says a digital watermark is “a set of data embedded in a digital work which identifies the work and/or its copyright owner or provides other information about the work” (17 U.S. Code § 512).

These terms are not interchangeable, they all fulfil different needs.


An electronic signature is designed to sign electronic documents which demonstrate the signer’s approval of the contents and intent to sign.

A digital signature relates to the software itself, instead of the signer.

A digital watermark is used to identify a copyright owner and protect intellectual property and, since it is not actioned by a signer, it doesn’t demonstrate any agreement or approval so can’t be used to sign a document.

Use Cases:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has spearheaded a new law – SB 606 – which aims to increase compliance with Florida’s boating safety education requirements (in accordance with Fla. Stat. § 327.395).

Effective January 1st, 2023 the law requires operators to deliver pre-rental safety and operational instruction to renters, and “the statement form must be signed by the individual providing the instruction.”

As mentioned above, a requirement of the ESIGN Act is that the person (whether it be the guest or instructor) providing the signature must have the ability to review the document before signing it.

If an electronic signature or digital watermark was applied to the document before the waiver content has been reviewed (as a way to potentially expedite the process) – this would violate the ESIGN Act and jeopardise your entire operation.

In plain terms – you cannot automatically stamp a waiver with a signature before it’s been reviewed, or pre-declare that someone has understood and agreed to something. In the case of SB606, The co-signature of the instructor is to demonstrate that the renter has understood the safety and operational instructions.

Wherewolf is the only digital waiver system that allows both guests and instructors to co-sign a document after it has been reviewed, therefore is completely compliant with the ESIGN Act.

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