You know that great photo you took? The one you really love? You shared it on Facebook and on your blog. I think you might have even won some awards for it. That one.
It's easier than ever for someone to steal it and share it as their own. Some people will even sell it as if they created it. It can and probably will happen to you.
What are you going to do about it? Here are 13 suggestions and one radical one for good measure.
Listen to the podcast
1 - Use a Watermark
The question the spawned this episode was really ‘should I use a watermark,’ so I’ll deal with that first.
What problem are you trying to solve? If you are trying to prevent stealing, a watermark won’t do it. A determined thief can remove a watermark. If you are trying to prove a deliberate intent to knowingly steal your image, the fact that someone removed a watermark is a pretty good sign.
The down side of a watermark is the distraction. It’s like a pink flamingo on the lawn of a really beautiful house. We will always notice it. Knowing that, you might use it for branding, but not as a deterrent to theft.
2 - Adding a copyright notice
Notice is the key word. You don’t need add the word copyright to protect your images. You automatically have one when you create a photo.
You still need to register the photo with the Copyright office if you want full protection.
Adding the notice is more like a reminder to the honest people of the world. Most will understand that you want to control where your photo is used.
You don’t have to add the copyright notice on the photo itself. You can place the notice and your contact info near the photo.
3 - Disable right click
By now everyone knows that the right-click is the easiest way to swipe an image from a website. Disable this capability and you will deter the casual thief and put your intentions on notice.
4 - Add a DMCA badge
The DMCA service offers a free badge & website certificate that you display on your site informing visitors that your images are protected.
They track your protected pages and offer a free takedown request per year. With a pro level paid service, you get a website detective that scans to find out who is using your content. Then you have up to 10 takedown request.
DMCA claims to have taken down almost 73 million photos
5 - Disable hot linking
When you disable hot linking, you don’t prevent people from downloading your photos, but you do stop them from embedding them on their own site. Lots of bloggers might innocently embed the photo directly from your site thinking this is okay since they technically haven’t removed it.
Disabling can be done by WP plugin or by hacking your code.
6 - Do a reverse image search
If you suspect that people might have already stolen your images, you can do a reverse image search and let Google track your photos down for you. Go to images.google.com. Enter the URL from your website or drag and drop the image. Google will return all the images that look similar to yours.
7 - Use Digimarc Guardian for Images
This is like a lojack for your stolen photos. Digimarc allows you to embed a digital barcode that resides in the file and communicates your copyrights. Their tracking and monitoring service searches the Internet and produces a report of all the sites where your images were found.
8 - Post only low resolution photos
Limit your damages by only posting low resolution images. This doesn’t stop anyone from taking them, but you can’t use a low resolution image for anything professional. Creating a 500 pixel at 72 dpi image is largest enough to see but not do much else.
9 - Require registration for image galleries
If you include high resolution images in your galleries, for instance for client proofing, then require registration for access. Lock down those folders to anyone who doesn’t part with an email and a name. Keeping away anonymous visitors can be a deterrent all by itself.
10 - Using tables
This is another way to disable right-clicking to download files. If you know your way around CSS coding, place images as a background to tables. Use the "background-image:url" style.
11 - Put a blank file over the image
With this method, the bad guys can’t reach the real image unless the go directly to the source. Use the original file as background and put a transparent blank file over it. When you right-click only the blank gif can be reached.
12 - Auto-slice images
Intentionally crop your image into four or more pieces that are assembled when someone wants to view them on your site. It looks like a single photo, but if you try to right-click, you only get a single slice.
13 - Send a cease and desist
Send a formal cease and desist letter that asks them to take your photo down.
Sending an invoice for the value of the usage also gets their attention. So glad you decided to use my photo. I have attached a bill based on your usage. If they don’t respond, send the bill to collections.
Let them steal it
That’s right. Let them steal it. You have to decide if all that work is worth it. I like Trey Ratcliffe’s approach:
If people want to do this, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe they are just a fan that has very little money and they just want to make a small personal print to enjoy on their own. They know they are not getting the best quality or a Limited Edition copy, but at least they get to enjoy the art. In fact, I think that is kind of nice.
I believe the world is mostly full of people who would rather do the right thing for the artist and see the Good Reasons to buy a print now or in the future.
We do register our images with the copyright office, so if someone uses an image commercially without a proper license, it is an easy lawsuit. Easy.
NOT using watermarks and using creative commons helps more and more people to use your image freely for fun, which increases traffic and builds something I call “internet-trust.” If more people link to your images, then you get more Google juice that flows down your river.
- Trey Ratcliffe, StuckInCustoms.com
- What happens to your photos after you post them online — TOS update
- Episode 10 - Stole Jenn's Pic. How an Instagram expert used social media to take down a photo thief
- Episode 13 - Giving & taking - Creative Commons and copyright for the photographer
- Episode 6 Photographers' rights - with the man who wrote the book
- 1 billion views in a week: How my photo went viral
- How using Google images can cost you $8,000