Image Theft Online: How to Deter and Protect

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What graphic arts professionals say about online image theft: It’s rampant .What most other people say: What’s image theft?

The act of copying someone’s original imagery from an online source and then reusing it without acknowledgment or permission is pervasive. What’s frustrating to artists is that the perception is – if it’s online you have a green light to use it.

Publishing online is necessary for artists to promote and sell their work. But it is also frustrating to artists that by publishing their work it provides others the opportunity to use it without permission. Some do this innocently while others are blatantly disregarding the artist. 

There’s no full-proof way to stop someone from using copyrighted work. But with a few deterrents in place, the case can be made that a user went to great lengths to infringe, and can’t plead ignorance.

Why stealing seems to be prevalent

I’m in no way excusing the theft, just trying to decipher what’s causing it.

The fact is, many users may not realize that they are stealing. If something appears in an online search, like on Google Images or Flickr or even Pinterest, doesn’t that make it “available?” they reason.

The other problem the ease, availability and common knowledge of ways to copy online imagery. You don’t need professional graphic designing software to make JPEGs. It may not be a quality copy, but that doesn’t stop many users.

Put up barriers

Try these steps for when you publish original imagery online:

  • Disable right-click: A user will not be able to right-click and “save image as.” Just be sure that you also fully disable the default image linking that occurs when you insert an image on your site.
  • Insert a copyright notice or symbol: CAUTION: Notification is not the same as registration. However, having the notification can act as a warning. It is also possible to embed copyright information into the metadata of a JPEG file.   
  • Watermark the images: I recommend using a semi-transparent watermark that’s overlaid across the entire image. This makes it possible for potential buyers to see the image but also makes it imperfect enough to deter unauthorized reproduction. You often see these watermarks on the websites of professional school and sports photographers.
  • Add a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Badge: This protection includes a takedown service if you find someone using your images or other content without permission. Registered badges come in different types, including free and paid-for versions. The DMCA badge and the associated services provide a good way of defending, detecting, and deterring infringement. 

Suspicious? Conduct a reverse image search

Google and TinEye offer tools to search the web for possible uses of your image. You upload the image in question to the search tool, and you receive a list of all images found that are “visually similar.”

It’s entirely possible that if you ask nicely, an infringer will remove your work from their site. Again, this speaks to the possibility that someone is unknowingly using your copyrighted work. 

Register your copyrights

Owners of a registered copyright may be entitled to attorneys’ fees and statutory damages up to $150,000. To take full advantage of registration, a copyright application for each work should be filed within three months of publication. When separate registration of many works would be unjustifiably expense, a single application seeking to register a collection of many works can provide a cost-effective alternative.

Still concerned? Get in touch.

Your rights should be protected when you publish original work. The world of copyrighting and trademarking can be complex, but there may be a simple solution. If you have questions or concerns about protections for your original published work, let’s have a conversation.

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