ultimate guide to protecting your images on the web

The web can be a scary, overwhelming place. Marketing strategies are constantly evolving and changing, as are strategies to protect copyrighted images. Unfortunately, as we evolve to protect what is rightfully ours, we either become increasingly paranoid about posting any images on the web or we find ways to fight back. As for myself, I’m choosing to fight back.

This year, my goal is to launch my own website, which features images of my artwork and other creative endeavors. It’s been a long time coming, believe me, but I’m almost there. Throughout the years, as I’ve been photographing my work and thinking about they layout and flow of my site, I’ve always been a little worried about protecting my images from online piracy. After hearing stories about images being copied and sold somewhere in China, artists work being turned into fabric patterns for clothing (without permission and royalties), and more, I’ve become a little shy about putting myself out there. On the flip side, I know that avoiding the web means my business will never grow beyond the people I choose to share it with.

So what’s a girl to do? In a few months, I’ll launch my site and share my work, but for now, I’ll share with you some options on protecting your images on the web. Keep in mind that nothing is fool proof– the people who are stealing images and using them for their own financial gain have expensive equipment and programs that can work through the best of tricks. Everyone else just wants to enjoy your work — maybe it’s on their desktop, in a school presentation, or on Pinterest. From what I’ve gathered, the goal is to make it harder for financial and intellectual thieves to steal your images, but easy enough for everyday users to enjoy what you do (and hopefully share it with others). Keep reading to check out some of your options. At the end, I’ll tell you what I decided to do.

1. Disable the Right-Click

One of the easiest ways to download an image is to right-click it and select “save image.” Disabling this feature may deter some users from downloading your images, but it won’t stop them all. Even with the right-click disabled, there are still plenty of ways to download an image.

2. Add a Copyright Notice

Adding a copyright notice isn’t necessary, but it may serve as a reminder or deterrent to users. Technically, copyright is automatically owned by the creator and doesn’t need to be on the website to protect the content. However, it can be a good idea to register copyright if you’re worried about someone claiming your work as their own. Keep in mind that a copyright notice and registering copyright are not the same things.

A copyright notice can be placed on your website, enabled when a user right-clicks an image, or placed directly on an image (which can easily be cropped out of an image, especially if it’s near an edge). Again, these efforts won’t stop the main culprits from stealing and using your images illegally, but it may make them think twice, and it will definitely raise awareness to casual users. Want to throw caution to the wind and embrace social sharing? Check out Trey Ratcliff’s view on the topic in his blog post, “Why Photographers Should Stop Complaining about Copyright and Embrace Pinterest.”

3. Watermark Your Images

Just as a copyright notice, adding a watermark may deter some users from downloading your image. While watermarks are nice for images that are shared all over social media platforms (like Pinterest), they can also be visually distracting or easily cropped out (if it’s placed on the edges). If watermarking makes sense for you, a useful and difficult-to-remove solution is a semi-transparent image that is watermarked over your whole image. Make sure to find one that only watermarks the lower resolution and website ready versions of your image. For an alternative look, read why Trey Ratcliff of “Stuck In Customs” doesn’t use watermarks on his high-resolution images.

4. Add a DMCA Badge To Your Site

A DMCA badge, and their services, helps keep content thieves away. Along with protecting original content, they help you combat online copyright infringement, monitor your protected images, and they offer watermarking and takedown services if someone is using your images or content without permission.

5. Disable Hotlinking

This action stops users from embedding your images or content in their own site. It doesn’t stop them from downloading your images.

6. Reverse Image Search

A reverse image search allows you to see if other sites are using your images. To use this service, go to Google Images and select the camera in the search bar. Search by each individual image using URLs from your site or drag an image from your computer. If you find someone using your exact image, you can contact them and ask them to take it down. Other reverse image search websites are through MyPicGuard and Tin Eye.

7. Shrink Wrap Your Images

This process involves putting a clear transparent image on top of another image. When someone tries to download your image, they will end up downloading the clear image only. You can see how it works, and learn how to do it here.

8. Slice and Dice Your Images

Slicing and dicing your images essentially chops your image into separate and smaller pieces when they are downloaded. On your site, your images look normal and flawless until someone tries to download them. If they really wanted to, they could stitch the separate images back together with a high-end graphics program. This method does take some time, but you can learn more about it here.

9. Pixel Size and Image Quality

Saving an image with high pixel counts and in the highest quality may not always be the best option. While larger files sizes provide more detail, they also allow thieves enough detail to reproduce and print your work at larger sizes. Also, large images make your website slower. Images that don’t need to be high definition can be saved at a slightly above-average quality, as long as they don’t deter the quality of your work. Ideally, you want to save your images at a small enough size that no one can really profit from it, but in today’s world of high-resolution monitors, we can’t have blurry, fuzzy, and pixelated images either. Finding the right balance and risk is up to you.

Some suggest resizing images as small as 600 pixels x 600 pixels, at a resolution of 72 pixels per inch. This would allow someone to print your image, at 72 dpi, at around 8×8,” but it may not offer enough website detail with certain images. To learn more about DPI in relation to the web and printing, read more on The Myth of DPI. Pixel sizes and image quality can be configured in the “Save for Web” feature of Adobe Photoshop. For more information, check out the following: Adobe Creative Suite Optimizing Images with the Save For Web Feature, How To Save Images for the Web – Photoshop Video, and Understanding Adobe Photoshop Save For Web.

10. Save Your Images with Descriptive File Names

Labeling your images properly can help in a variety of ways. First, it may help with SEO purposes and reverse image searches, but it also helps keep your name attached to your work. Lets say your image is floating around social media somewhere without a description…if someone finally right-clicks to save the image, they may see your name and the title of the image, which will hopefully lead them back to your website and lead them to update the information on that image floating through social media. For example, save your file names like so: “name_title_”.

11. Embed Copyright and Metadata to Your Photos

Before publishing your images to the web, you should always attach your contact and copyright information to the photo. Embedding this information is called “metadata” and is an essential process that even the Smithsonian recommends. The process provides a “trail of breadcrumbs” so that the original source of the image can be tracked down. However, the ability to preserve metadata after an image has been shared through several social media platforms is still under debate. Adding metadata can be done in most versions of Photoshop Creative Suite or Elements. Simply go to “File” then “File Info” and fill out the first form with your name, the title, copyright information, etc. Filling out this information will help reverse image searches and Google Alerts find your images. This Guide to Photo Metadata Fields and these 12 Myths about Embedded Photo Metadata may help.

12. Google Alerts

Once you’ve made a copyright notice that is unique for your photography – and embedded it to your metadata – you can then go and make a google alert for that notice. Google will send you a message when that copyright notice is found on the web, and then you can go and investigate.

Simple Ways to Protect Your Images on the Web

As an artist or photographer (or any other visual profession), posting your images on the web can be risky, but not being on the web can be even riskier for your success. Personally, I find all the image protection options, the technical details, and watchdog behavior to be overwhelming. I just want to share my work with the world and keep on making. However, in an effort to be provide myself with some protection, I will take some precautions. At the very minimum, I plan to do the following: embed metadata to all of my images, save my images with descriptive file names, play with pixel dimensions and file sizes that provide detail but aren’t too large, add copyright notices to my site, and then I’ll look into the DMCA badge, reverse image searches, and Google Alerts. I’ll say this to you (and myself): don’t let the web be a scary place; let it help you break free and share your talent with the world. Have any other image protection suggestions? Please share!

More Resources:

  1. Prevent Website Image Stealing
  2. Stop Stealing My Images
  3. Optimize Images For Websites
  4. How I Stopped a Copycat Artist on Facebook
  5. How To Protect Your Photography From Theft
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