Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Photographer On The Web - PART 6 – Protecting Your Images

Copyright and the Photographer

I have dealt with the theft of a photo, not my own, by a member at I discovered the theft and reported it to the Artist and the Site Administrator. A note that the site Administrator did nothing about it but the theif was harassed so much he finally left. After the incident many members were worried about their prized photos.

In this digital world where MP3 files are copied by the millions every day, what are we as Photographers and Artists supposed to do about it? Nothing! That’s the best thing to do, except perhaps for being a little smart.

Before I get into details of what you can do to protect yourself and your photos, why would I say not to worry and not do anything? Well, most of us post our photos at reasonably small sizes of 1024 Pixels across or less. Now, if one of these photos gets stolen, what loss do we experience?? None at all.

In the recent example I mentioned where a Member stole a photo from artist Dariusz Klimczak ( and then posted it at as if it was his own photo, what did Dariusz lose? Well in fact nothing. Did he lose money? No. The thief in this case would never have paid for the photo. Had he not been able to take that photo, he would just have taken another photo. But he would never have paid for it. So there was no financial loss.

Image that was stolen from Artist
Dariusz Klimczak.

I spoke with Dariusz (via e-mail) and here is what this great artist had to say about his stolen art; “It is not the first time, when I see my stolen works. But, it's only jpg on the net. I have no time and patience, to search and reaction for that. Have a nice day!” Wow, a fairly blasé attitude considering that Dariusz sells a lot of very expensive works in galleries and national magazines. Why then should you be worried.

What did happen though is many members at the site went to Dariusz's page and checked out all his wonderful work. More exposure as it were.

Let’s look at another example… what if someone stole a photo from you and used it on their own business site to promote themselves. What is lost in this case? Again nothing. Anyone that would do that would find another photo if they had to. These people that steal photos will never pay for one. So nothing is lost. What can you do? Well a quick letter from you along with proof of ownership will have them remove the photo. Or, very often, a threat of a lawsuit unless they pay your $200.00 dollar regular fee or whatever your fee would normally be (don’t get greedy here) will usually result in quick payment.

Now, in this last case, if someone steals your photo and then proceeds to sell it to a big corporation for a regional or even national ad, you would have the making of a great law suit on your hands that you would win. What’s interesting here is that you on your own would never have sold that photo. Someone sold it for you! Now you can benefit from it. In real life this would almost never happen (It has once*) because a large company wanting to do a full page ad or even a billboard would want a very hi-resolution image to work with, not a crappy low resolution image. Here you will gain because of the law suit. If someone had never stolen the photo you would never have received anything! So, thanks should go out for someone for stealing and then selling your photo.

Also, you should be thankful because someone actually thought that your photo was good enough to be worth stealing!!

All this however doesn’t mean we should do nothing when it happens. Theft is wrong. We should report it and we should make life difficult for the thief. We did that at and the culprit left because of all the pressure from the members.

Now that we have discussed the issue of protecting your images, how then do you go about it?

Several things available to the photographer are Copyright, Name or Logo Imprint, Watermarks, Digital Watermark, Low Resolution Images, Right Click Disable, Shrink Wrapping, Flash, and EXIF Data. Let’s look at these in more detail.

Copyright – By default every photo you take is owned by you and by default you have full copyright of the image. Having said that, it’s always good to put up reminders. On my blog site I have two “All Images Copyright Francois Cleroux 2008” reminders and a “Please don’t steal photos” sign. When adding a photo to another site or for a photo contest, add your copyright information to the subject line or remarks area. Very little work is required.

Name or Logo Imprint – This adds text, a logo or both on top of your image or some other area. When done small it can be stylish and not to obtrusive. Larger, it can become an annoyance and can distract from the image itself. This protection method can fairly easily be removed in Photoshop but it is a deterrent. Text and Logo must be designed and stylish. Image must be added to every image posted and can be a lot of work. Programs are available to automate the task.

Watermarks – Watermarks are just like Name or Logo Imprinting above except that the image is made semi transparent. Because of the see thru nature, it can be made larger and cover a larger portion of the image you want to protect. This can be a big distraction unless it is very faint. Because of the size and transparency, it is more difficult to remove. The same amount of work is required as Logo Imprinting.

Digital Watermarks – A Digital Watermark is kind of like the Logo Imprint or the Watermark except that it is done invisibly and embedded into the image itself. If does not show on the image in any way. A special program like Digimarc’s MyPictureMarc is a great program that can embed a paid for limited quantity of digital watermarks into your photos. This program will also allow you to add an un-limited number of regular watermarks. Prices depend on the number of photos but a basic package of 1000 Digital Watermarks and an Un-Limited number of Regular Watermarks sells for around $80.00 U.S. at this time. This software has other great features and can be used for tracking images and includes utilities to handle your images. A Digital Watermark is very difficult to remove but note that if someone steals your image, it will be very easy to prove that it belongs to you.

Low Resolution Images – By limiting the size of your image, you effectively limit its uses. A standard VGA size image of 640 x 480 Pixels would not even look good printed on a 4” x 6” print. If it were stolen for someone’s web site, it would only take up about a quarter of most modern desktops. So yes it could be stolen and used on a web site, but it would never be suitable for print. Even smaller photos or say 400 pixels across further limits its usefulness. At 400 pixels most images are viewable enough to get most of the detail. Below 400 pixels some details get lost. Below the 150 pixel size, it can become difficult to even distinguish what a photo is.

Right Click Disable – RCD is a simple programming script that can be added to a web page to disable the “Right Click” feature of a computer. Doing a Right-Click would normally allow you to copy an image. Although the script is only one line long it works on a whole page. This kind of script is easily circumvented in many ways and it does not work in various web browsers like Safari and others. Not very practical, especially if you do not program your own pages.

Shrink Wrapping – Shrink wrapping is done by programming a page to display a clear invisible photo overtop of the photo you want to protect. Not difficult to program. When someone Right Clicks on an image and then saves it, all they get is the “Blank” image and not the one they were looking at. But, just like the Right Click Disable, it must be programmed and is also easily defeated.

Flash – Adobe Flash is almost like a movie. These movies can be embedded into web pages. A Flash file can contain one photo or it could run as a slide show of many photos. Again, this needs to be either programmed or setup into a page. Applets are available to add to many sites, but again all embedded photos in a Flash File can be extracted if you know what you are doing! It does protect your files from being grabbed by the casual viewer.

EXIF Data – EXIF Data is data that can be embedded into the Computer File itself. EXIF Data (Exchangeable Image File) is available in JPG format and some other formats. Data like your name and copyright information can be saved within the file along with camera specific settings such as shutter speeds and apertures. Most new cameras will automatically embed such setting information into the files automatically. This data can easily be removed. Also this will not prevent someone from stealing a photo, it is a great place to leave your name and copyright information. You can view the data on most computers by right clicking the file, selecting “Properties” and then going to the “Summary” tab. You may need to click the advanced button. You can easily do all your photos in one folder all at the same time provided all your photos are the same type of files like JPGs.
Other options would be to post blurry poor quality images or perhaps not post images. But like we discussed before, the whole point here is “to have people see your photos and to enjoy them.” Making photos very small, or obscuring them by adding watermarks or embedding Logos and such defeats the whole purpose. Again, what have you lost if someone takes a photo?

On the plus side, you have a lot to gain. Someone that steals your image to use as a desktop wallpaper could lead to sales or even a big contract by someone just seeing the image in the future.

People always ask what do I do. Well, I’m in the Dariusz camp on this one; I typically do not do anything. Yes I have the copyright information on my page. I sometimes (to lazy to always do it) add the EXIF Data Copyright Information to the files. I make my photos small but yet large enough to be used as a desktop wall paper so others can use it if they wish. Most of my photos are 1024 pixels in size. If I have 3000 people steal one of my images so that they could use it as desktop wallpaper, I would be very happy! Note that no one of those 3000 would ever pay anything for the image anyway. Nothing lost but a bunch of fans made with the image.

Now, at this point a small clean Name or Logo Imprint on the photo could let people know who you are and even perhaps, where you are. That is, your website and in turn, this can lead to work or sales. It can act as your business card!! That’s why the EXIF Data is also important. My pink photo of the Magnolia is an example of this. In this case I added the copyright information to a border.

So, take some precautions but please do not over do it. Let people enjoy your work. Do not post your full size JPG files anywhere. Oh, and stop worrying about someone taking your pictures. Just like MP3 Music Files, JPG Photo Files will always be stolen. Why spend a ton of time and money trying to prevent it!


Digimarc (
Photo Attorney (


Copyright Your Images - An attorney and intellectual property specialist delves into handling instances of copyright infringement (

Orphan Works Explored - How will changes in copyright law affect you and your rights over your photography? (

"Copyrighting" vs. "Registering" Your Photos (

Finding Your Stolen Images on the Internet

OK, this sounds rather difficult. But a new startup company has created a mathematical algorithm that can create a ‘signature’ of your photo. The site has been busy indexing and storing these signatures in a very large database.

The company targets Photo Sites like Flickr and Stock sites but it is still in Beta and not all sites have been indexed yet. The process is simple. You take a small version of a photo, upload it, click a button and it reports back to you if it has found it anywhere else on the internet.

It is simple and works well. I about a year when most major sites are fully indexed it will be a great tool. Although, by then it may no longer be free.


TinEye (

© 2008 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.00 - November 2008)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.


  1. It's critical to so something to establish your proof of ownership, otherwise you won't be able to go after infringers in the way you describe. There are very convenient and cost-effective ways to do this - check out

  2. I found a free online image watermark tool called Batch Watermarker that can automate the whole process of image watermarking. If you are away from your PC and don't want to download any software, you can just use this online version of watermarking tool for free. It's quick and it's easy to use.

    You can also download their full version of Batch Watermark software program if you want to watermark multiple image files in a folder with just a click of the mouse.


I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux