Preventing and handling image theft online

posted in: Editing and Software | 0

First and foremost you can’t really stop image theft. But there are certain steps to make it more difficult. We will also discuss the proper way of dealing with image thefts and abusers.

Scripts preventing right click, flash tricks, invisible gifs…

There are many programing tricks making downloading the picture harder. But in fact they block only normal users who want to download the picture for their personal use. All of these methods are easily overcome. In the moment your browser shows the page the pictures are in your TEMP folder. You just need to copy them and no on-site script can prevent this. Other option is to check website source code, get image real address and just type it into the browser – voila! And pushing PrintScreen also still works. So I don’t see any reason to waste time on this.

right click saving image

Preventing right-click and “Save image as …” is quite common but also useless technique. Good old PrintScreen still works. Don’t waste time on such things.

So what helps?

The good way is using both watermark and IPTC tags. Adding watermark with your copyright notice and website is worth the time. For many abusers is much easier to find another image rather then bothering with cropping or retouching your watermark. And if they steal your picture and do not remove watermark you got free reference at least.

Many people know about EXIF data but not so many know IPTC tags. It basically works the same way – it adds some description, keywords, copyright notice etc. in the form of tags into your picture header. So these data are stored within the picture. Most abusers simply have no clue about this and never check IPTC. It is not going to prevent the theft but it could be very helpful if you find some abuse of your images. Just showing IPTC tags with your copyright notice ends all talks about ownership. There are several programs (including many freeware) able to put copyright notice into your pictures.

example of using IPTC and EXIF tags

IPTC is very usefull tool for picture description. Most image thieves don’t bother with checking that. Example shows detail description dialog box from program Exifer. You can also do that with plug-in to popular Irfan View and many other free viewers. Also most pro programs like Adobe Bridge/Lightroom support IPTC.

What to do if I discover my stolen images somewhere?

First don’t panic! Evaluate the damage and the importance of the problem. If it is just some teenager website or blog it doesn’t really harm you much and you can’t prevent all these small websites to do this. Drop the abuser email with polite but firm request to remove your picture, citing the copyright law might help. If it doesn’t work, you can always check the server registration and drop email to server admin.

In this example is visible but not too bothering watermark. You can embed watermarks in many watermarking programs or in any program supporting layers.

However when you find your picture on some commercial website, then it is completely different story. First necessary step is to visit your lawyer or notary and make officially confirmed screen copy. Then ask your lawyer to write short letter to the abuser that they used your picture without permission and violated copyright. Attach invoice with reasonable sum for picture (I would charge between $100-$200) + your costs (notary, lawyer) and here we go. If the abuser doesn’t respond, then it’s yours lawyer turn. There might be some problems though. For example the abuser sits in some banana country and lawyer couldn’t help. Then check WHO.IS database and try contacting admin of their server, block their IP’s, bombard them with email every day or every hour, publish the story on the important websites or phorums etc.

In both cases of abuse evaluate real damage and chance of getting money back or at least stopping further abuse. Do not waste time on untrackable abusers or the loss will be even bigger with no results!


Summed up, there will always be some abusers using your pictures and you can’t stop this. You can partially prevent image theft by using watermark but you shouldn’t waste your time on programing tricks which could be easily bypassed. If you find stolen images, try to get it solved but do not worry about image abusers too much. Internet connected us worldwide and provided access to huge customer base unbeliavable just 10 years ago. More stolen pictures (or texts) are the price we pay for it.

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