Online image theft is, unfortunately, extremely common, and anyone who uploads their images online is at risk. In fact, around 85% of the 3 billion images shared online every day are stolen. If you’re a professional artist, this could have huge implications for your business. So how can you better protect your images? Here are some of the most effective ways you can protect your images online:
1. Check the terms and conditions
Before publishing your work on a platform or a website, read the terms and conditions to ensure that said sources have a clause that protects your intellectual property, and whether the image will remain yours once it’s uploaded. Look out for mentions of a Creative Commons license — this is a simple, standard way to protect and determine an author’s copyrights.
2. Include a copyright reminder
If you’re publishing an image, it’s essential you add a copyright reminder.
For example, you can use the standard © 2020 Your company or name. Such reminders serve as a preliminary warning to those that are thinking of using your images without consent.
If an author is determined, they will monitor the web for any signs of theft, citing their copyright warning to defend their work. This significantly reduces the chances of your work being stolen.
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3. Add a watermark
Watermarks are often used by stock photography providers and are often seen in the ‘preview image’ section. Normally the watermark includes the author or company’s name, the website’s URL, or sometimes even the e-mail of phone numbers of the author. While this is a fool-proof way to protect your images online, there is one clear drawback: the creative quality of the work, as well as its expressiveness, is lost, as the original image is tampered with by an unsightly watermark.
Creating a watermark is easy: most CMS platforms have tools to help with this. For example, WordPress has a plugin you can download titled Image Watermark.
4. Embed copyright notices within the files with the Exchangeable Image File Format
Exif (Exchangeable Image File Format) – is a standard that defines specific information related to an image or other media captured. It is capable of storing such important data as camera exposure, date/time the image was captured, and even GPS location. The information stored within an Exif file can be read by both humans and other devices (printers, for example). Besides storing information such as exposure, resolution etc. you can also add a copyright notice as well as the name of the author. You can add this information with a program such as Exif Pilot. To view the information stored in an Exif you’d need to use Windows and simply right click on the image.
The downside of using Exif is that anyone can edit the information, and professional thieves would be able to bypass this. Using Exifs does, however, make it more difficult to copy images.
5. Copyright your images
Depending on your country of residence, once you’ve created an image, you might be protected by copyright law by default.
To qualify for copyright protection, a work has to be ‘original’ in the sense that the work exhibits the “author’s own intellectual creation”.
It’s best to have a document that certifies your copyright. However, there is no universal answer as to whether you are protected by copyright law or not — it’s best to consult with a lawyer to get professional advice.
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6. Add a DMCA protection badge
A DMCA Badge is based on American law, and acts as a seal of protection placed on your website that deters thieves from stealing your content. With a registered badge, you have access to the tools, resources, and support to swiftly take down any website that steals your content. Adding a DMCA badge can be costly, but you can do so through a WordPress widget.
7 .Upload low-resolution images
Low-resolution images are less in demand than high-res ones. Low-res images load quicker and due to their compressed formats are difficult if not impossible to use for commercial purposes. Where possible, try and upload your images in a low resolution.
8. Disable right-clicking
While this method makes image theft more difficult, it provides no guarantees. Anyone with a basic knowledge of HTML can bypass this method of protection. It also doesn’t work on mass data extraction tools (also known as parsers). Another disadvantage is that users that come to your website may be frustrated by the lack of a right-click option.
9. Disable hotlinking
If you have a lot of images on your website, then it’s highly likely that you’re using hotlinking. Hotlinking is known as the act of stealing someone’s bandwidth by linking directly to their website’s assets, such as images or videos. This leads not only to image theft but also to the overloading of your website, and increase your hosting costs. Essentially, the person that hotlinks to your website is committing two offences: stealing your images and stealing your bandwidth.
Checking whether this is an issue your website is facing is easy. In google image search, enter inurl: yoursite.com -site: yoursite.com (instead of yoursite.com, enter your website’s actual URL). This allows you to see all the websites that have hotlinked your images. You can double-check this by opening the image in a new window (via right-clicking). The URL at the top will be that of your website.
There are several ways to disable hotlinking: 1. Disable hotlinking in the settings of your domain host, 2. disable it in the .htaccess file or 3. if you use WordPress, you can use the All In One WP Security & Firewall plugin widget.
10. Take action against the infringer
As soon as you find a stolen image, take immediate action. E-mail the person that committed the theft, asking them to take the image down from their website. Remind them that what they have done is illegal. If the person you’ve contacted doesn’t respond or refuses to comply, contact their domain host and inform them of what’s happened.
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11. How to track down a copied image
There are various tools you can use to track down copied images. For example, you can use TinEye, or Google Images. You can trace your images based on samples. These websites will give you the URLs of all the websites that have copied said sample images.
There you have it — we’ve listed a variety of actionable steps you can take to better protect your images from copyright infringement. Some of these methods will hinder the process of theft, while others are more full-proof. The methods you choose to take depend entirely on your needs and are ultimately your decision. Good luck!