Copyright Education

5 Effective Ways to protect your Photos online (with Instructions)

In this article, we describe effective measures you can take to better protect your images from image theft.

If you are a photographer and you value the integrity of your photos, you should take the necessary steps to protect them. Although there is no universal way to stop people from using your pictures online without a proper license, there are some precautionary measures you can take and techniques you can use to reduce the chances of your photos being stolen. This article has listed various actionable steps you can take to better protect your images from copyright infringement. So let's take a look at them!

1. Include a Copyright Notice.

2. Watermark your Photos.

3. Upload low-resolution images.

4. Disable Hotlinking.

5. Disable Right-click option.


1. Include a Copyright Notice.

If you're publishing an image online, adding a copyright reminder is advisable. Some people mistakenly believe that images which don't have a copyright symbol are available for free use. So it's a smart first step in protecting your work online.

Attaching a copyright notice is not a legal requirement as copyright automatically arises from the moment original work is created. Nevertheless, it clearly identifies you as the copyright holder, thereby decreasing the likelihood that your work will be used without authorization. Such reminders serve as a preliminary warning to those who are thinking of using your images without consent.

Moreover, having an explicit copyright notice on your content makes it easier for someone to contact you and request your permission to use your work legally.

In addition, providing the notice may entitle you to extended damages if the infringer removes the copyright notice to cover up his misdeed. Finally, the presence of a copyright reminder means that the infringer can't claim he wasn't aware of what he was doing. It can help you if your case ever goes to court.

How to write a Copyright Notice?

You write a copyright notice by including these components in the following order:

  • The copyright symbol (©), the word "Copyright," or its abbreviation, "Copr." is also acceptable.
  • The year of creation/ publication
  • The name of the creator/ copyright holder. It can be a person, an organization, or a business.
  • (optional) Contact information where interested parties can get in touch to request permission to use your work – often your website address)

The final form may look like this: © 2022 Your Name.

For good measure, you may even also include an additional statement to clarify the rights you hold over your picture, such as:

  • All rights reserved: You own all rights to your work.
  • Some rights reserved: You permit the use of your work under certain circumstances.
  • No rights reserved: You release your work into the public domain.

2. Watermark your Photos.

A watermark is a strong way of protecting your work from unauthorized use. Warn potential users that your photos are legally protected and show that you are taking action against copyright infringement. 

As important as putting a watermark on your photos is how you do that. There may be people who necessarily want the image, and they can crop or clone off watermarks that cover a tiny part of the image, like the bottom or other edges of the picture. That is why it is also essential to ensure that you do not place watermarks too discreetly at the edge of the image, as they are particularly easy to remove there. So watermarks should be added so that they are not easy to remove.

If you are worried that using watermarks that cover a significant part of your picture will make your photos look not that great, you could slightly reduce the opacity of the watermark, so it does not stand out in the image. Of course, the watermark should also not be so transparent that you can hardly see it and still use the picture.

Typically the watermark includes:

  • The author or company's name
  • The website's URL
  • Sometimes even the e-mail or phone numbers of the author.

How to watermark your pictures?

Creating a watermark is easy: most CMS platforms have tools that help with this. 

For example, WordPress has plugins you can download and apply to your images. Here are the best WordPress watermark plugins:

1.    WP Photo Album Plus

2.    Image Watermark

3.    Product Watermark for WooCommerce

4.    Easy Watermark 

5.    Customizable WordPress Gallery Plugin – Modula Image Gallery 

As you see, there are plenty of watermark plugins that will help you prevent image theft. Most of them are available in a free version, so give them a try and stay on the safe side.

Unfortunately in many cases, such watermarks may be easily removed. Research released by Google shows that even seemingly complex watermarks can be taken out using photo editing software.

For this reason, it is advisable to additionally use invisible watermarks like IMATAG or Adobe Photoshop's Digimarc ; they serve as digital copyright protection for images. The copyright information is integrated directly into the picture and is invisible to the naked eye. Yes, invisible watermarks don't deter image thieves, but they're perfect for providing evidence when you've uncovered an image theft.


3. Upload low-resolution Images.

Low-resolution images are less in demand than high-resolution ones. Low-resolution images reduce page loading time and due to their compressed formats are difficult if not impossible to use for commercial purposes. For instance, high-resolution files can be used for a variety of purposes like making prints for selling and can even make you lose a copyright claim unless you have the raw file.

Where possible, try and upload your images in an as low as possible resolution. A low-resolution image may still look appropriate online (for example when used as a thumbnail). You may also make a full-res version of an image available only for paying clients.

How to reduce the resolution of your pictures?

It is easier than you imagine. It is possible to do in almost every image editing software like Photoshop or GIMP. We would recommend the Adobe Express Tool for Resizing Images online. Just upload your photo, choose the right size and the thing is done.


4. Disable Hotlinking (a.k.a. Crosslinking/ Framing).

Hotlinking link loads images on a website from an external server. Often infringers do not copy the infringed on file to their own server but just "embed" it on their website through hotlinking. Hotlinking is also known as crosslinking or framing.

By deactivating hotlinking on your own webserver, you can prevent people from embedding your photos on their domain. Many people believe that embedding images is not wrongdoing, so it is better to have that functionality turned off.

How to disable hotlinking?

There are several ways of doing that, depending on the technology you use to operate your website:

  • If you're running your website on Apache: You can prevent hotlinking by adding a simple code in the .htaccess file of your webserver. Please copy the code snippet below and paste it into your website's .htaccess file.

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)? [NC]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)? [NC]

RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ – [NC,F,L]

Notes to this config:

  • Type your domain name instead of "? [NC]", 
  • The "? [NC]" section means that you will allow Google to link to your site — if you do not want that, delete that row, but we recommend using it like that
  • Alternatively, If you exceptionally want to add another website so that it can link to your website´s sources, add the same line with the specific domain name, e.g., you might wish to add your professional Facebook page or Twitter profile
  • If you run your website on a CDN: Most CDN providers have a built-in image hotlink protection system. Services like KeyCDN and Cloudflare offer excellent built-in hotlink protection for free that you can enable easily. If you are using any CDN, check whether this feature is available.
  • If you run your website on WordPress: consider one of the many plugins for hotlink protection.Plugins like All In One WP Security And Firewall have functions that take measures against hotlinking.


5. Disable Right-Click function.

Another option to stop people from quickly downloading your photos is by disabling the “right-click” feature.

How to disable Right-clicking?

If your website is built on WordPress, plugins may be handy again to help you deactivate this feature. You can disable right-clicking, e.g., by applying the WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click or No Right Click Images Plugin.

If you use another CMS for your website, you may disable right-clicking through JavaScript or HTML codes. If this case, it’s best to consult with a web developer.

While deactivating a right-click is an efficient method to protect your images from being stolen, you need to consider that disabling right-click will block all right-click options for the user (e.g., viewing the site source or opening a Google search for the image in Chrome), which significantly reduces the usability of your website. So you may want to think twice if you would like to restrict your site visitors this way.

We also recommend you read our article ´How to register your Photo Copyright and why is it worth doing?´.


Your picture got stolen. Now what?

There is no universal practice for every image creator on how to deal with copyright infringements. Of course, you can go the legal way and hire a lawyer or copyright enforcement company to enforce your copyright. But more and more photographers realize that sending a third party after an infringer is not always the best idea. People often commit copyright infringements unconsciously, just because of a lack of Copyright Knowledge. Otherwise, they would have bought a license. In such cases, it would be beneficial for you to contact the infringers directly, build a positive relationship with them and turn them into customers instead of opponents. And we would be happy to help you do so with  Fair Licensing.


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