I have a feeling this post may cause some controversy, because I know from experience that a lot artists spend a lot of time trying to prevent people from ‘stealing’ their images.
My view is that it’s largely a waste of time and effort, and some of the preventative measures can actually be detrimental to you as an artist.
So how can you prevent people from stealing your images online?
The simple truth is, you can’t. There are certain things you can do to try and deter image thieves, but the fact is, if they want to use your images, they will.
They have clearly never heard of screenshot browser extensions, or the simple ‘Print screen’ key on every keyboard, which allows you to take a screenshot of the whole page simply by pressing a key.
Disabling the right-click function only serves to annoy regular visitors who want to use it for innocent purposes such as opening links in a new tab.
Another popular deterrent is the infamous watermark, which a lot of artists will stamp over their images in varying degrees of obtrusiveness.
The idea is that your watermark tells people who the image belongs to, so that they know where to find you in the event that they see your stolen image on some random site.
The other thing about watermarks is that people are less likely to steal an image with a watermark on it simply because they don’t look great.
The problem is those images don’t look great on your site either. Your artwork or photography won’t be nearly as impressive if it has a huge copyright message stamped across it.
I used to use watermarks myself, but I abandoned them in favour of nice looking images.
If you really feel the need to use a watermark, I would suggest a discreet line of text along one edge of your image, simply stating your website URL, and not actually covering the main part of the image.
Sure, someone could crop this out of the image if they want to steal it, but it’s more likely that they won’t bother, and besides, the benefit to you of having great looking images is likely to far outweigh the cost of someone else using your image.
Some artists also make sure that all their web images are really low-resolution and fuzzy, so that they can’t be stolen and reproduced as prints, for example. But again, the cost of having shoddy images on your site far outweighs the cost of someone getting a free print. (And even if you use really large images on your website, they still won’t result in a great print at anything larger than postcard size.)
What does it cost you?
For me, this is what it comes down to. What is the cost to you of someone using your images without your permission?
You could argue that they are benefiting from your images, possibly financially, so that is a loss of potential earnings. But then if they’re stealing your images in the first place, they were never likely to have paid for the privilege anyway.
And weigh this up against the time, stress and money you could spend trying to keep your images secure. Legal fees aren’t cheap if you decide to sue for copyright infringement, with no guarantee that you’ll win, and surely your time could be better spent creating more amazing art.
Big Fat Disclaimer
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely NOT saying that it’s ok to steal images on the web. Copyright infringement is bad and wrong! If someone is really making a packet by passing your work off as their own then you should probably do something about it.
But if a small-time blogger has used your image in a blog post that hardly anyone is going to see anyway, is it worth your time to send him a cease and desist letter?
I’m just suggesting that you weigh up the costs and benefits of spending so much time and effort trying to protect your copyright, and maybe you’ll find that you’d be a lot better off if you just concentrate on your art, and leave the petty image thieves to their own devices. They’ll be exposed for the frauds they are eventually anyway.
Where do you stand on protecting your images from copyright infringement? Is it something you spend time policing, or are you happy to live and let live?