How to Protect Your Images Online: 11 Tips to Prevent Image Theft
As a photographer or image creator, you know how important it is to protect your work from unauthorized use and image theft. Unfortunately, this is a common problem on the internet, especially on platforms like WordPress, Facebook, or Instagram, where images are easily shared and downloaded.
Sometimes people might use your images without permission. This can result in loss of income, reputation, and control over your images.
But don't worry, there are ways to reduce the risk of image theft and protect your images online. In this guide, we will explain some key terms related to image protection and give you 13 practical tips that you can implement right away.
Image Protection 101: 6+1 Essential Terms
Before we dive into the tips, let's review some basic terms that you need to know about image protection.
• Image theft: Image theft happens when someone uses an image without permission or a valid license from the image owner and the copyright holder. For example, a travel blogger may use an image of the Golden Gate Bridge that they found on Google, but without having secured a license or permission from the rights holder.
• Unauthorized use of an image: An unauthorized use of an image is when someone uses an image without the image owner's permission, or outside the terms of a license. For example, the image owner only authorized print usage but not digital, thus publishing the picture online is a violation of copyright terms. Likewise, the image owner may grant non-commercial usage, thus using the image in any commercial way would be an unauthorized use or contract breach.
• Image protection: Image protection means protecting an image from download, misuse, image theft and unauthorized use. It especially applies to a digital context, as it can be easier to find tools online to protect and monitor possibly stolen images. An example can be an image monitoring and protection service platform such as Pixsy.
• Copyright: Copyright is a "bundle of rights", which include, as explained by The Copyright Society of the USA, the right to " (1) distribute the work, (2) reproduce (or make copies of) the work, (3) display the work (for example, a painting that you want to allow a museum to publicly display), (4) perform the work, and (5) create Derivative Works based upon the original work".
• Copyright notice: A copyright notice is placed on or displayed in the context of the work and gives information about copyright ownership. It usually consists of three elements: the symbol © (or the word "Copyright"), the year of first publication, and the name of the owner. For example: © 2021 John Smith.
• Watermark: A watermark is a visible mark or logo that is added to an image to identify the owner and discourage unauthorized use. It can be placed anywhere on the image, but usually in a corner or along an edge. For example: John Smith Photography.
• Digital signature: A digital signature is an invisible mark or code that is embedded in an image to identify the owner and track unauthorized use. It can be added using software tools or online services.
11 Tips to Protect Your Images Online
Now that you have learned some basic terms related to image protection, here are 11 tips that you can use to protect your images online.
1. Register the copyright to your work
The first and most important step to protect your images online is to register the copyright to your work. This will give you legal proof of ownership and allow you to enforce your rights against infringers.
Depending on where you live and where you publish your work, there may be different requirements and procedures for registration. For example, in the US, you can register your work online with the US Copyright Office for a fee.
2. Use a copyright notice
The next step is to use a copyright notice on your work or in its context. This will inform potential users that your work is protected by copyright and that they need your permission or a license to use it.
A copyright notice usually consists of three elements: the symbol © (or the word "Copyright"), the year of first publication, and the name of the owner. For example: © 2021 John Smith.
You can place the notice on your work itself (such as in a corner or along an edge), or in its context (such as in the caption, description, or metadata).
3. Watermark your work
Another way to protect your work is to watermark it. A watermark is a visible mark or logo that is added to your image to identify you as the owner and discourage unauthorized use.
You can create your own watermark using software tools or online services, or you can use a professional watermarking service. You can place the watermark anywhere on your image, but usually in a corner or along an edge.
A watermark should be clear and legible, but not too distracting or obstructive. You can also adjust the opacity and size of the watermark to suit your preferences.
4. Use a digital signature
A digital signature is an invisible mark or code that is embedded in your image to identify you as the owner and track unauthorized use. It can be added using software tools or online services.
A digital signature is more secure and reliable than a watermark, as it cannot be easily removed or altered by infringers. It can also help you prove your ownership and claim damages in case of a dispute.
5. Include hidden foreground layers
Another technique to protect your work is to include hidden foreground layers in your image. These are transparent layers that cover parts of your image and prevent users from downloading or copying it.
You can create hidden foreground layers using software tools such as Photoshop. You can also use online services that offer this feature.
Hidden foreground layers are not visible to the human eye, but they can block right-clicks, drag-and-drop, and screenshots. They can also trigger alerts or redirects when someone tries to access your image.
6. Edit EXIF data
EXIF data is the metadata that is attached to your image file and contains information such as the date, time, location, camera settings, and author of the image. You can edit EXIF data using software tools or online services.
Editing EXIF data can help you protect your work in two ways:
You can add information such as your name, website, and contact details to identify yourself as the owner and make it easier for potential users to contact you for permission or licensing. You can remove information such as the location and camera settings to protect your privacy and prevent others from replicating your work.
7. Use low-resolution images
Another tip to protect your work is to use low-resolution images on the web. Low-resolution images have lower quality and size than high-resolution images, which makes them less attractive and useful for unauthorized use.
1. You can reduce the resolution of your images using software tools or online services.
2. You can also use different resolutions for different purposes: for example, you can use high-resolution images for printing or selling, and low-resolution images for displaying or sharing online.
8. Adjust the color profile
Adjusting the color profile of your images is another way to protect them online. The color profile is the set of parameters that defines how colors are displayed on different devices and screens.
You can adjust the color profile of your images using software tools or online services. You can also use different color profiles for different purposes: for example, you can use sRGB for web display, and Adobe RGB for printing.
Adjusting the color profile can help you protect your work in two ways:
• You can make sure that your images look consistent and accurate on different devices and screens, which enhances their quality and appeal.
• You can make it harder for others to edit or manipulate your images without affecting their colors and appearance.
9. Disable right-click
Disabling right-click is a simple way to prevent users from downloading or copying your images from your website. Right-clicking is the most common way that users access the options to save or copy an image.
You can disable right-click on your website using code snippets or plugins. However, this method is not foolproof, as some users may still be able to bypass it using keyboard shortcuts, browser extensions, or other tools.
10. Block screenshots
Blocking screenshots is another way to prevent users from downloading or copying your images from your website. Screenshots are another common way that users capture an image from their screen.
You can block screenshots on your website using code snippets or plugins. However, this method is also not foolproof, as some users may still be able to take screenshots using external devices, such as cameras or phones.
11. Disable hotlinking
Disabling hotlinking is another way to protect your images online. Hotlinking is when someone uses an image from another website by linking directly to its URL, instead of hosting it on their own server.
Hotlinking can cause problems for image owners, such as:
• Loss of bandwidth and traffic
• Loss of control and attribution
• Loss of revenue and opportunities
You can disable hotlinking on your website using code snippets or plugins. You can also replace hotlinked images with alternative images that display a message or a logo instead of the original image.