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How to protect your images online

One question which comes up frequently is how website owners can protect their images from being stolen. One of the first things to realise is that almost any information, be it text or images, placed online is in the public domain and therefore vulnerable to thieves. One simple rule to follow is therefore not to put anything online which you would not like to be stolen.

However, one of the primary reasons for operating a website is to display your products and if your products happen to be images (e.g. artwork or photography), it’s difficult to advertise these without placing them online. So, a catch 22 situation arises, where on the one hand you wish to represent your work in the best way possible, but at the same time, you don’t want your work to be ripped off.

Another important point to understand from the beginning regards the enforceability of copyright. As we‘ve said in a previous blog post, copyright (when breached) can be very difficult to enforce unless you are a very large company (usually a corporate) and even then, it can be difficult to control.

For instance, if you are a small business in the UK selling paintings, drawings or photography, it’s unlikely that you will have the means to take another individual or company to court in a foreign country. For full information on copyright and knowing how to deal with infringements, please read our blog post entitled Dealing with plagiarism (abuse of copyright).

So, back to todays subject – how can you protect your images? There are various methods available and these can be used in combination with each other to best effect. There are, however, few solutions which will offer 100% protection. In most cases, the methods for protecting your work are little more than deterrence – some more effective than others.

Image size/dimensions

A major consideration should always be the size of the image (in terms of dimensions, rather than file size). Naturally, the bigger your images are in terms of how many pixels wide by how many pixels tall, will have a big effect on the usage of an image (if stolen) and in particular, how large it can be printed. So always try and strike a good balance between the dimensions required to best show your picture against the desire to keep this minimal, to avoid exploitation.

Disabling the right click

Disable the right click to protect imagesAn easy deterrent to install is to disable the right click shortcut menu when a user visits your webpage. There are various installable scripts for this and can be found easily by Googling for ‘disable right click’. If you operate a WordPress website, there’s a handy plug-in which will disable the right click on all images on your pages (see ‘No Right Click Images Plugin’).

Disabling the right click is extremely easy to implement but is probably the least effective method for protecting your images. Anybody with a better than average knowledge of computers will know how to view the code behind your page to locate the location of the image or they can always take a screen print (screen grab).

It’s a little bit like putting a cheap chain lock on your bicycle. It will put a casual thief off but a determined thief will get out the bolt cutters and be away with your bike in seconds.

Visual or graphical watermarks

This is one of the most effective techniques for protecting your images. It involves placing an image or text on top of your image and changing the opacity to a level which doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the image.

View towards Edgefield from Hunworth, NorfolkWatermarks can be easily added to images using most image editing software packages such as Photoshop or the Gimp. If watermarking multiple images, there are usually batch conversion methods to speed up the process. Standalone software solutions for watermarking also exist – see

If your website is operated by WordPress and you are using the NextGen gallery plug-in, there is a handy built-in feature for applying watermarks to all your gallery images. Refer to the plug-in help information to learn more.

Visual or graphical watermarks can be the most effective because the thief will find it very difficult to remove the watermark from the photograph or artwork. If you place the watermark in the corner or on the edges, there’s a danger of the thief cropping the image to remove it. So you may have to be bold about how you implement your watermark.

Digital watermarks

Embedding a digital watermark using the Digimarc plug-in in PhotoshopDigital watermarks are invisibly embedded into the image so as not to spoil the enjoyment of the image. However, if the image is stolen and abused, copyright of the image can be proven by the digital watermark and many software packages offer search facilities for finding cases of misuse on the entire Internet.

One of the leading packages is made by Digimarc. This fairly inexpensive software has to be renewed by annual license and includes the option for an ongoing search for misuse of your images, with regular reports provided. Note that Photoshop is pre-loaded with a basic Digimarc plugin (see the Filter menu).

For businesses who place a very high importance on their images, this can be a popular solution to safeguard most possibilities of abuse. But, remember, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, once you have identified an occurrence of an abuse, do you have the means to deal with it?

In conclusion

  • For 100% protection of your images, don’t place them online
  • Disabling the right click is an easy to implement deterrent
  • Visual or graphical watermarks can be the most effective, but can spoil the enjoyment of your images
  • Digital watermarks can assist proof of copyright and make it very easy to learn of misuse instances across the internet

This covers most of the common methods available for protecting your images. If anybody is aware of any other methods which we should know about, we would love to be informed of these and will update this post accordingly.

There are no doubt methods of securing your images with Adobe Flash but we will not be covering these options as Flash is not a product we use regularly. We rarely use Flash when building websites due to the nature of our business and the compatibility issues with Apple hardware.

How you deal with the protection of your images will vary depending on your particular circumstances. Usually, a combination of the methods above will satisfy most requirements.

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