Photographers and Artists: How to avoid theft of your Images

Image or Photo theft, or borrowing (To put it nicely, although it is theft regardless) is alarmingly frequent. Anytime someone saves or captured your images without your permission, it is technically considered theft. Now, it might be as big of a deal for the average person who uploads a photo to the Internet, but for a professional photographer or digital artist/designer, it is important as they are trying to sell these images. Here some things you can do to deter or minimize theft of your images.

Digital images
First, let me explain how, and where they occur most according to statistics and research. For as long as there has been Internet, the most convenient and easiest way to steal someone else’s photo has been the “Right Click” of the mouse which gives you the option to save the image. The second most used method is the “Print Screen” button on the keyboard. Depending on your operating system and keyboard setting, (Alt or Cntrl + Print Screen) captures whatever image is showing on the screen. That’s how, now where.

According to statistics from various sources, the sites or services that this seems to occur most often are Pinterest, Flickr, or Google images, among other similar sites. This is for the obvious reason that these sites are designed to share images.

Here are some tips to deter or even prevent the theft of your images, depending how badly you want to deter or prevent:

1. Do Not Post images you intend for sale to Pinterest, Flickr, or Google images or other sites like it. These sites were created for image sharing, and theft of your image is not matter of if, but when.

2. If you have your own photography or art images website, ask your website designer to disable the right-click, save image function. If you have designed your own website, you can also do it by adding a line of code to the web pages which contain images. It is even easier if you are using WordPress for you website, as there are plugins, one called No Right Click Plugin. There are similar plugins for WordPress, make sure the plugin you choose has been recently update. This prevents anyone from saving the images. By the way, most photo or digital art websites including FAA, Pixels, or 500px already have disabled the Right Click function. However, there is not an easy way if any at all to disable the Print screen function, as it is a feature of the Operating Systems, it being Windows, Mac, or even Linux. But, read on as there are ways to discourage theft.

3. Watermark your images. There are tools within most photo editing applications to insert a watermark and adjust it’s opacity to make it still look professional. You can use a keyboard combination keys to generate the © copyright mark. In Mac holding Option + G will give you the ©. For Windows you have to configure your keyboard. Configure your keyboard layout in Windows so that you can type all additional symbols you want as easy as any other text. Takes about 5-10 minutes to set things up. For example, you can assign copyright and produced symbols to be AltGr (right alt key) + C and AltGr + P.

4. The most effective way of deterring theft is really to display a low resolution of your image. No one wants a low resolution image, but unfortunately that might include your potential customers. So, explain in the caption that the display is the low resolution version, but the actual image is high resolution.

5. There is also a service that you can register called DMCA. The DMCA offers free protection for your website which includes a takedown service if you find someone using your images or other content without permission. The DMCA will threaten legal action on your behalf with usually scares infringers into taking down your content right away.

Putting a DMCA badge on your site can act as a deterrent for serial image stealers and they also offer a free image watermarking service. There is also a DMCA plugin available for WordPress that inserts the badge on all your website pages automatically.

6. Disabiling Hotlinking, which is finding the url link to your images, and displaying it on their site, or post. But, you have to be selective with this as it may effect some of your own promotion. You can prevent hotlinking by editing your .htaccess file but there are also plugins available to do the job for you. Plugins like Hotlink Protection simply stop external web servers from linking to your files, while others like ByREV WP-PICShield provide more functionality and replace the hotlinked image with a warning message or another image of your choice.

7. Photoshop has a plugin called Digimarc that creates a digitally embedded watermark in your images, but it is a pricey plugin. I am actually working on a new alternative, innovative application that works in protecting digital assets.

Really, to sum it up, the best solution will vary for each one of you, but most likely will be a mix and combination of the 7 items listed above. You want to be vigilant, but not obsessive, in order to present your work the best format and way possible. Let me know if you have any questions.

– Christopher Saleh

Sources used for research and statistic:
Stock photo used from

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