How to protect images on your website from downloading

How to protect images on your website from downloading

Did you know that image files can be lifted from Instagram in just a few seconds? Downloading an image from a website is super easy. According to Copytrack, “3 billion images are shared online every day, and 85% of them get stolen”.

So here’s how to protect your work.

3 common ways images are stolen from a website

The most obvious way is to simply take a screenshot. This feature is now built into most devices and operating systems, making it quick and easy to lift your work with the presses of a few buttons.

Another easy way to download an image is often to right click on it, which can open a menu that lets save it straight into your downloads folder.

Beyond screenshots and simple browser functions, a browser’s developer tools make it possible for anyone to access the public assets on any website, even if right clicking is disabled. Digging into the webpage source code isn’t even necessary: downloading can be done via the “Inspect Element” function available in most browsers.

Six seconds to lift a very usable image file from Instagram with Google Chrome, in spite of the right-click protection

It is worth keeping in mind that in order for images to be displayed, their files must technically be available to the browsers, and therefore to the visitors.

Unfortunately, this means that nothing can be done to strictly prevent downloading photos from your website.

While right-click disabling / screen capture prevention plugins and other similar methods can slow down a thief, they’re ultimately ineffective and can provide a false sense of security.

Since there are several ways around these “protections”, we recommend following the steps below to protect your work instead.

How to protect your images

Be mindful of what you share

Any public image can be easily lifted from Instagram at a decent resolution in a few seconds, for example. This goes for other platforms as well, including your website.

Before sharing an image, ask yourself: Is this image something you want to be openly accessible to the public?

Use private galleries

As a corollary to the previous point, a great way to protect images that don’t need to be part of your public portfolio is to utilize private galleries.

Protected gallery password screen
Gallery protected by a simple password

This way, the photos aren’t publicly available in the first place and your exposure is reduced. A private client photo gallery might for example require a direct link, a password, or personal authorized log-in credentials.

Display clear copyright statements

Use clear messaging to communicate that your work isn’t free. Some people are simply naïve to the fact that you can’t just save and re-share content on the internet. Make clear to tempted infringers that your work is copyrighted, and that you're serious about your copyright.

For example, you may place a subtle copyright message on your website in the website footer. You can also populate the “Copyright” IPTC metadata field and display it alongside your images.

Copyright statement
A copyright message can’t be much clearer than this!

While this won’t stop deliberate image theft, the subtle reminder may cause an unknowing offender to think twice.

Use a watermark - a good one!

A good watermark is our favorite protection. It is hard to remove in PhotoShop, legible, but simultaneously doesn’t ruin the appeal of the image.

For example, a combination of a small, highly legible watermark and a larger, fainter watermark covering the whole image.

Example of a good watermark
A good watermark is hard to erase but doesn’t interfere too much with the image

The use of a watermark is a fine balance, so carefully choose the trade-off between aesthetics and security. A happy medium will often be effective at weeding out a lot of would-be offenders.

Keep image resolution in check

Reduce the quality of images shown on your website. Displaying images at a reduced resolution makes them less useful for potential image thieves. As a bonus, smaller file sizes result in reduced page load times.

Try to find a compromise between quality and security that works for you and your target audience.

Read the Terms

When you upload images to a service to share or display them, pick a proven secure provider, and read the terms of service to make sure you retain ownership of what you upload.

Some websites may have sneaky terms that grant them rights to use your uploaded work for promotional purposes. In many cases, this robs you of legal recourse. Even well-known and reputable platforms can have dubious terms when it comes to intellectual property rights, so take the time to do your research before submitting your work to a platform.

Track stolen images

Use an online tool to detect unauthorized uses of your images. Pixsy, for example, scans the web for your images and tracks commercial uses. They can also help you monetize unauthorized uses. They have integration with many common image platforms, including PhotoDeck.

Pixsy image search
© Pixsy

TinEye Alerts is another common tool that offers similar web-crawling functionality.

Make your images purchasable

Provide a legal way of acquiring your work by offering it for sale. It could turn a potential image poacher into a paying customer. Make it convenient: an easy checkout process and easy payment options could lead to a win-win situation.

Image license purchase options
Images can be sold and licensed in an infinite number of ways

What is your strategy to protect images on your website?

Now it’s time to put things into practice. Combine a few of the tactics outlined above to effectively protect your work.

Remember, protecting your work is a balancing act between inconveniencing ill-intentioned visitors without inconveniencing legitimate customers.

For most, a balanced approach to the tools outlined here will be the key to success.

PhotoDeck gives you the right tools

PhotoDeck websites offer the tools to stop image thieves in their tracks, including super-flexible private galleries and a fully featured watermarking facility.

A web-optimized preview file (with optional watermark) is automatically rendered and displayed on your website for each image/video that you publish on your website, in a size/resolution you can easily choose and change. Meanwhile, your original files are securely stored out of reach from the public.

And if you think you could gain a few paying customers, PhotoDeck’s ecommerce tools make it super simple to offer your work for sale with no commission.

Learn more about PhotoDeck for photographers, for photo agencies or for media libraries.

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