protecting online photos

From veterans to amateurs, many photographers use blogs/ web-albums. Whether you are making a living out of your photos or just sharing with friends and the world, preventing their abuse is important. Surprisingly, biggest copyright threats may actually come from news/ ad agencies; these agencies need images, get plenty on the web (picked up by entry level employees with not much wisdom on copyright) and their editors perhaps think that copyright issues are too trivial to care. It does not take more than common sense to appreciate that these organizations can have more profitable use of the images, compared to a casual reader copying the images just to use as wallpaper.

If you have “smartly” displayed your images in flash, it might prevent copy by traditionally right-clicking the image. But one can always take a screenshot of the browser window, then crop the required portion. (If PrintScreen key is disabled, hundreds of screenshot capturing utilities will back the purpose). So “flash” format is not foolproof. Another practice is to put a copyright/ license notice below the photo, where one assumes that the thief scrolls down, sees the notice and abides by it. Unfortunately that is too optimistic.

The only way of preventing theft is to control at source. Also, think how and where the thief might use the photo.  Consider that you have uploaded a great photo of the garden in your area, and then ahead of elections some magazine puts that photo in their article about your locality. So here the use is to print on paper. Luckily in 90% cases, this will be the fate of stolen image. Hence if we can cause problems to 90% of thieves, we can be 90% more secure.

  1. Never put a high resolution image on the web album or blog. Resize it first to say 800×600, then upload. In this way, even if one takes a screenshot, the image will never be bigger than this resolution, and it is a poor size to print even a postcard. Keep the high res images in your backup disc/ drive.
  2. Don’t expose all sizes of the image or download-options in public web albums. One standard 800×600 view is enough for a PC screen. If you have to share high res images with a friend, use some online storage facility (delete when done) or physical media. Everything need not be on the cloud.
  3. Use a standard width theme for your blog – you dont need to go beyond 1024 pixels, even to show off that 16×9 widescreen image. For wider images, simply resize by keeping 1024 or 800 pixels as width, then calculate the height according to aspect ratio of the image.
  4. When you upload an image, it links to the space where the photo is stored. Dissociate this link from the photo in your post, so if one hovers on the image, there wont be any link to open it. That way you can restrict the viewer to only that resolution which your blog shows, if it is different than the size you uploaded (NOT recommended).
  5. Use a watermark on your image. Dont look far, even Picasa can be used for it. Just add text to the image – in small fonts and a suitable transparency depending on the colors of your image, in whichever area you think is least damaging for the subject but visible at the same time. A small watermark can personalize the image without reducing its appeal.
  6. Some cameras and photo software allow to add copyright meta-data or comments to EXIF.  If possible add the data.
  7. Store the original images in a good quality dvd. The images will have EXIF data on them, so even if you become a victim of theft someday, this data will provide you something to prove your ownership. Although it is not foolproof as the exif data can be altered using image software, having the original image as it came out of the camera is always advantageous.

Photography is synonymous with sharing. What is the fun if a photo can’t be shown to others? But fair usage shouldn’t be compromised, hence we need to be a bit aware.


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