How To Protect Your Website From Image Theft

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Stop Website Image TheftFor as long as the web has been in existence, image theft has been rampant. It’s so quick and easy to download and copy images from the internet that it doesn’t even occur to most people that they are using someone else’s property without permission.

Google Images, photo sharing sites like Flickr and social bookmarking sites like Pinterest have made it even more easy (and socially acceptable) to steal images. Most people think that if an image comes up in a Google Images search, it’s fair game.

As an artist or photographer — especially if you make a living through selling digital images — you’ll obviously want to make sure that people aren’t getting your work for free. While there is no way of stopping people from using your images entirely (short of not uploading them in the first place), you can make it more difficult or inconvenient for them. There are also ways to make sure that images are marked as belonging to you, so even if they do end up on another site, people can find their way back to the original creator.

Disabling Right-Click

The easiest way to download images is by right-clicking on them and selecting “save image”. While it’s still easy enough to download images in other ways, if you disable this capability, you’ll put off less web-savvy image thieves and people who can’t be bothered with the hassle of looking at your HTML or searching the browser cache.

The easiest way to do this in WordPress is by using the No Right Click Images Plugin. This plugin uses Javascript to disable the contextual menu when you right-click on an image. It only affects right-clicking on images, so if users right-click on a link to open it in a new tab, for example, this won’t be affected. You can also choose to display a copyright message or another image when an image is right-clicked.

The main problem with this plugin is that it can be disabled by simply turning off Javascript, but most users won’t know this or won’t bother disabling it unless they really want your image in particular. It’s also possible that the Javascript could cause a conflict with some other code in the theme or a different plugin.

To protect your images fully, you’ll also need to disable the default image linking that occurs when you insert an image in WordPress. To do this just choose “none” in the “link to” dropdown box when you’re uploading your image.

Adding A Copyright Notice

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to put a copyright notice on your website content to protect it. Copyright is automatically owned by the creator and you only need to register copyright if you’re worried about someone claiming your work at their own at some point in the future.

Putting a copyright notice on your website is not the same as registering copyright but it can act as enough of a deterrent to prevent casual downloads and may cause people to stop and realize they’re not actually allowed to download your pictures to do with as they please.

Most WordPress themes come with an inbuilt copyright notice in the footer. If your theme doesn’t have this, you can add it easily with the following code:

Copyright ©
< ?php $the_year = date("Y"); echo $the_year; ? >
< ?php bloginfo('url'); ? >
All Rights Reserved.

This code will automatically fill in your website name and update to the current year. Just enter it into the footer.php file in your theme’s directory.

A footer copyright notice is not normally very noticeable, so you might also want to have a more prominent and detailed one. WordPress suggests putting the following text in your sidebar so it is visible at all times:

© [Full Name] and [Blog Name], [Current Year or Year Range]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Your Name] and [Your Blog Name] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

You can also add a copyright notice directly to your images either by using an image editing program or by adding a text watermark using a plugin like Watermark Reloaded or Watermark My Image. Keep in mind the fact that if your copyright notice is in the corner of your image, it can be easily cropped out.

Watermark Your Images

Adding a textual copyright watermark may deter image downloaders but as previously mentioned, they are easily cropped out and won’t stop people who really want your images. Another solution is to use a semi-transparent image to watermark over the whole of your image.

This is easily accomplished with a plugin like our very own Watermark for Sell Media. Unlike some watermark plugins, ours doesn’t alter the original file uploaded. Instead, it watermarks only the lower resolution versions, which are displayed on your website. You can use either your signature or logo to watermark your images automatically as they are uploaded. Other solutions can be found in the WordPress plugin repository (choose one with high ratings, test carefully and delete all inactive or unused plugins).

Watermarks like this are typically extremely difficult to remove so they can be quite effective, but they are rather distracting for people looking at your photos so it’s a personal decision whether to use them or not and how large to make the watermark.

Add A DMCA Badge To Your Site

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.

Disable Hotlinking

Disabling hotlinking does not stop people from downloading your images, but rather it will stop them from embedding them in their own site by linking out directly to your website. This is a common practice for new bloggers who don’t realise they’re doing anything wrong.

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.

Do A Reverse Image Search

While it’s not always possible to stop people from stealing your images, in some cases they may stop using them on their website if you ask nicely. Many web users simply do not realise that it’s illegal or even bad manners to take images that they find online and if you ask them to take them down, they’ll happily comply.

You can find other sites that are using your images by using a handy trick in Google Images. You’ll need to do this individually for each image so it may not be practical to check all your images, but it’s worth checking in on from time to time.

To use this service, go to images.google.com and click the camera icon in the search box to search by image. You can either enter a URL from your website here or you can even drag in an image from your computer. Google will come back with all images that are visually similar. If you find your exact image, you can click through to the site and contact the owner.

Take Precautions But Don’t Be Obsessive

It makes sense to take a few steps to protect your images when you rely on them for your livelihood but remember that whatever measures you take, nothing will ultimately stop someone from stealing your content and photos if they really want to.

Don’t waste your time trying to achieve the impossible. It’s better to simply try and deter casual downloaders by making it more inconvenient to access your pictures.

Watermarking your images with your website address in an unobtrusive way is a decent compromise for most people. While web users lacking morals may crop it out, the majority won’t bother and this may even work get you some extra exposure and drive traffic to your site.

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14 thoughts on “How To Protect Your Website From Image Theft”

  1. disabling right click is pretty much a complete waste of time (and i notice you haven’t bothered to do it). Most web browsers have another equally simple way to download all images and content from any page on most websites. Disabling that is not so easy, and even if you do, you’re still left with the fact that all images have to be downloaded to your computer to be displayed, so a tech savy user can still get them.
    Another thing you can do is to add your copyright info into the exif data in the file, then if someone does take your file, and reuse it, the copyright info may still remain. It can be easily removed, and pinterest used to automatically remove it from all pinned images – I don’t know if they still do.

    1. You are correct in that there are easy workarounds to still steal images even after disabling right click. I def. wont argue about that. That said, it is still an approach some might want to consider to help prevent some unsophisticated levels of image theft.

      Good addition regarding the copyright/exif thing!

  2. Great piece, Tom! The very best I have come to find in image protection, is Pic-Decoy for WordPress. This plugin replaces all your images with invisible blank (decoy) images and when a user attempts to copy your images (in just about any way possible – via context, browser, etc), then blank images are served instead of the real ones (well worth a go): http://yooplugins.com/downloads/wp-pic-decoy/

    1. I went to their site and tried the demo, you do indeed get the blank image when right clicking and even printing; however, I was able to get the sample image with inspect element in Chrome

  3. …Hi folks….just designed a web-site and it is with the web-builder to put together.
    Just realised – fortunately BEFORE the site is up and running – that web-site theft is a big issue.
    As well as text…the web-site will have images which I’m anxious to protect from being copied.
    I’ve heard about the watermarking…..but it will spoil the images when people look at them on the web-site.
    So my BIG question is…lovely people out there……and I’m willing to pay to protect my site….is it possible to have a watermark..or a grid or something…..which is invisible on the site…but which becomes visible when it is copied…either electronically or on paper…?
    Could such a thing also be applied to the text on the web-site.
    Basically, NOTHING on the site needs to be copied….as the site will be accessible for free on iPhone, Tablet, PC at home/library etc…
    best wishes and thanks

    Laurence

    1. short answer no,
      long answer yes, but this requires complex design. some web elements can have a back-ground image (this is separate from an actual image contained in another element.

      Option 1, So imagine the background image is a [X] cutout of the actual image, and the actual image has a [X] cutout at the same area, then by overlaying the two images using standard css the image would seem like a single image, but the directly downloadable actual image would have a nice little surprise. this would require using image formats that has transparency layers like png.

      Option two, do not really render an image, there is a web element called canvas. render the image to a canvas then add/hack a contextual right_click event that draws a watermark over the image whenever downloaded. Any good web developer can do this one. (and IMO is the best solution).

      1. People who want to steal often use things called site rippers, which just trawls through your folders and downloads everything….

    2. Although I don’t have my personal website anymore, I used to have few
      badges anti-theft in my website and also used disable right click
      scripts on every single page. I agree that this will stop a good deal of
      people from doing the wrong thing.

      Yet, I have found some of my texts
      offered for download, without my consent, in some places on the web. I
      have learnt to relax a bit and see it as good for me because they are
      crediting my work. Also, somebody who is not me is selling two of my
      articles on Amazon, web format, under my name. I guess they got them
      from the website. Against my will, all my former website, not the one I
      was paying, the one I started to do myself when I was at Uni, is stored
      in Reocities and other places because somebody who felt like a hero
      decided to rescue me when Geocities was closed down. It doesn’t benefit
      me having a professional website that cannot be updated or modified.

      Re
      photos, not even an eye-ball system will prevent people from taking a
      screenshot of one of you images and reuse it. In fact, it was mega easy
      to do that in Flickr in the past. I left the site a few years ago.

      Nowadays, I upload photos that are small in size, use
      good quality embedded slideshows if I want something better (I use free
      Photosnack, but the paid service is even better) that can be seen nicely
      on the screen, but not used for anything else, difficult to download by
      the normal mortal browsing the net.

      As useless as it might
      sound, just relax a bit. The only way to avoid plagiarism, people
      stealing things or using things from you is just by not being online, or
      investing a lot of money to blind your website. Relax is the in between
      solution.

      I am not a geekie by any means, but sometimes it is too easy to do naughty things.

  4. Yes, it was just mentioned in the post above, but a simple screenshot (print screen) will make a copy of whatever you are looking at… That’s why I think a combo of a watermark and a lo-res pic is the way to go. But yeah, then your images don’t look as great….

  5. resize your photos and reduce the resolution as much as possible (50 kb max) and add a watermark to the image. That should take care of the issue. That’s what unfortunately I’m doing now to the paleontology and geology page I’m working on; small marked images that give an idea but not impress-a small price the honest must pay for the ill doings of the criminal. Though I’m sure I will still find the text in many pages out their in the future.

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