/ How to Protect Copyrighted Images?

How to Protect Copyrighted Images?

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Lokesh Pal

December 6, 2023


0min read

How to Protect Copyrighted Images?

Protecting your image from infringement is one of the challenges that rightful owners face.

However, this article will walk you through the process of how to protect copyrighted images.

How to Protect Copyrighted Images?

Here are some tips and best practices to protect your images from being copied or stolen online:

Using a Copyright Notice

Incorporating a copyright notice, such as ‘© All Rights Reserved,’ has not been a legal requirement in the United States since 1989.

Nevertheless, it serves as a clear identifier of your status as the copyright holder.

This can effectively reduce the chances of your work being used without proper authorisation and enhance the legal evidence available in cases of misuse.

A comprehensive copyright notice typically consists of:

  1. The copyright symbol (©) or the word “copyright.”
  2. A statement of rights, such as “All Rights Reserved.”
  3. The name of the creator or author.
  4. (Optional) The date or date range indicating the year(s) of creation.
  5. (Optional) Contact information, enabling interested parties to reach out for permission to use your work, often including your website address.

For instance, you can observe the “Some rights reserved” license highlighted in the bottom right of the photograph of Luca Sartoni on Flickr.

Alternatively, you may opt to license your online image under a Creative Commons (CC) license, specifying the terms that apply.

If you decide to pursue this route, ensure that you clearly indicate the appropriate CC license in your statement of rights.

(Note: Once you choose to publish under CC, reversing this decision can be challenging.)

It’s important to be aware that a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license effectively relinquishes your copyright, transforming your photos into public domain images.

If you’re interested in delving further into the topic of licenses, you may find our article on licensing agreements to be a valuable resource.

Add Watermarks on Images

Protecting your photos online can be achieved through the strategic use of watermarks. This serves as a clear and visible indication of ownership, acting as a deterrent against casual image theft.

One effective option is to add a discreet section of text or a logo to the corner of your digital photos.

This practice has proven successful in preventing opportunistic copyright infringement.

For instance, individuals seeking images for presentations or web content tend to bypass watermarked photos, as they may prefer unmarked alternatives found during their online search.

Incorporating watermarks into your online photos is a straightforward process.

You can apply them individually using software like Photoshop or efficiently and uniformly watermark an entire batch of photos with tools such as Adobe Lightroom.

It’s crucial to strike a balance when adding watermarks.

They should not be overly intrusive or distracting, as the aim is not to overshadow your photo with excessive branding. Instead, opt for a subtle and tidy watermark.

Additionally, adjusting the opacity can help minimise any adverse impact on the overall appearance of your photo.

Employ Hidden Foreground Layers

Enhancing image protection can involve incorporating a concealed foreground layer, which consists of a transparent overlay placed in front of the image.

When someone downloads the image from the internet, only the blank overlay becomes visible, concealing the actual image beneath it.

Adding hidden foreground layers is a straightforward process achievable with software like Photoshop and other similar photo editing tools.

This approach is particularly useful for images displayed on websites.

Consider Using a Digital Signature

Creating a digital signature is achievable using image editing software, and it serves as a preventive measure that, unlike watermarks, preserves the visual impact of your work.

Essentially, it functions as an attribute within the online photos that remains invisible until the file is downloaded.

This means that individuals intent on using the image would need to consciously decide to disregard the digital signature or take steps to remove it.

Consider Advanced Barcoding

You may have come across Digimarc, a service that has introduced the concept of “invisible barcoding” for digital images.

This technology involves adding a subtle amount of digital noise to your photo, creating a distinct and unique pattern specific to your image.

Essentially, it functions as a digital fingerprint for your picture, allowing it to circulate across the vast expanse of the internet while remaining traceable.

Digimarc offers this service as a paid option, with its professional package priced at $119, providing protection for up to 2,000 photos.

Digimarc actively scans the internet, notifying you whenever it detects your image being used online. However, it’s worth noting that you can achieve a similar outcome manually, free of charge, using Google.

While Digimarc also offers the advantage of proving copyright ownership in potential legal disputes, possessing the original file or a copy of a high-resolution image is usually sufficient evidence.

Combining Digimarc with a visible watermark could offer an extra layer of security and peace of mind.

Prevent Image Theft by Blocking Screenshots

In the digital age, taking a screenshot has become second nature for most users.

While this functionality is incredibly convenient for everyday tasks, it can pose a threat to photographers and image owners concerned about protecting their work from unauthorised use.

Fortunately, there are plugins designed to counteract this risk on websites, and many of them offer compatibility with popular publishing platforms like WordPress.

These plugins act as a safeguard against screenshot attempts, enhancing image security.

However, it’s essential to recognise that such plugins are script-based and, like any digital defense, they too can potentially be circumvented or disabled by determined individuals.

Therefore, while they provide an extra layer of protection, it’s advisable to complement this with other image protection strategies to safeguard your creative content effectively.

Disabling Right-Click Functionality to Protect Your Images

A straightforward way to save an image you find on the internet is by right-clicking on it and choosing the option “save image as.”

However, many individuals may not be aware that they can easily disable this feature on their picture gallery website, preventing less tech-savvy individuals from saving images through this effective method.

If you are using WordPress, it is possible to disable the right-click feature by installing plugins.

The “no-right-click images” plugin is a commonly used tool for safeguarding images from direct downloads.

Utilise Low-Resolution Images for Web Use

Opting for low-resolution images when publishing content on the internet offers distinct advantages.

These images are advantageous for two primary reasons: they have smaller file sizes, leading to quicker loading times, and their low resolution makes them unsuitable for printing.

Faster-loading websites are undeniably more user-friendly and even enjoy improved search engine rankings, a benefit that few would oppose.

Despite their reduced resolution, low-res images maintain their visual appeal when viewed on screens and mobile devices.

However, if these images are downloaded, enlarged, or printed, they become noticeably grainy and pixelated, rendering them of little value to potential image thieves

Editing EXIF Data for Image Protection

When you capture a photograph with a DSLR or digital camera, it generates a set of metadata known as EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) data.

This data includes essential attributes such as image dimensions, shutter speed, and device model.

Moreover, EXIF data provides an option to insert your name or a comprehensive copyright notice into the image information, even allowing data for Google to process and highlight in search results.

IPTC photo metadata, on the other hand, establishes the industry standard for administrative, descriptive, and copyright details related to images.

It enjoys widespread support from various editing software and is recognised by Google.

While adding copyright information to image metadata is a common practice among professional photographers, it remains relatively unknown to non-professionals.

This step becomes crucial if your image is ever wrongfully used or stolen, as you can swiftly address the issue by referencing the EXIF data.

However, it’s important to note that not all cases are straightforward, as certain hosting platforms (e.g., Instagram) may strip metadata or users can deliberately remove it from image files.

How to Include Copyright Information in Image Metadata

You have the option to directly embed your copyright details within a JPEG file by manipulating its metadata, which includes various details and instructions that can be extracted from the file. Here’s how you can achieve this using photo-editing programs:

In Lightroom:

  1. Access the ‘Metadata’ tab within the library.
  2. Select the desired photo and scroll down in the sidebar.
  3. Locate the ‘Copyright’ line and input your copyright information.

In Photoshop:

  1. Navigate to “File > File Info…”
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  2. Adjust the copyright information within this section.

However, it’s essential to note that this method may not be the most effective.

The embedded copyright information is not immediately visible to viewers and is typically only accessible by examining the file’s metadata.

Additionally, certain platforms like Facebook may remove metadata during compression, and saving a photo for web purposes may also strip this metadata unless specific options are configured otherwise.

Preventing Unauthorised Hotlinking

Embedding images from your website onto another site without proper attribution is not only a form of image theft but can also strain your web resources.

This practice, known as hotlinking, occurs when an external website loads your images directly from your server.

It can lead to unwarranted traffic and potentially impact your site’s performance, not to mention its ethical and legal implications.

To protect against hotlinking, you have a couple of options:

1. Use Plugins (WordPress): If you’re running a WordPress site, you can make use of plugins designed to disable hotlinking. These plugins can automatically handle the task for you.

2. Edit Your Code (Advanced): Alternatively, for those comfortable with coding, you can manually disable hotlinking by adding specific code to your .htaccess file. Here’s an example: RewriteEngine on RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$ RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?yourdomain.com [NC] RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?google.com [NC] RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif)$ – [NC,F,L]

Notes on the code:

  • Replace “yourdomain.com [NC]” with your actual domain.
  • The “google.com [NC]” section allows Google to link to your site; you can adjust or remove this line.
  • To add exceptions for other specific domains, include similar lines with the respective domain names.

Additionally, many content delivery networks (CDNs) offer hotlinking protection options.

Depending on the CDN solution you choose, you can completely halt hotlinking or display warning messages to users attempting to embed your images.

These measures collectively help safeguard your images and resources from unauthorised use

Review Website Terms Before Uploading Images

Exercise caution when uploading your photos to image-sharingthird-party websites.

For instance, platforms like Flickr offer the option to submit your photos under a Creative Commons license, granting specific usage rights to others.

It’s crucial to note that once granted, you typically cannot revoke this license retrospectively. Therefore, ensure that you haven’t accidentally enabled this option before sharing your images.

Websites such as 500px.com provide a feature that enables the embedding of photos on websites using a specialised sharing script.

This, however, frames the photo with 500px branding. Be aware that your photos may appear on other websites as a result.

Currently, there’s no option to disable this feature, so consider this carefully before uploading your images to 500px.

Should you wish to remove your image from sites that have embedded it, you can always delete the file from the hosting site, which will effectively eliminate the image from those external websites as well.

Monitoring Unauthorised Image Use

In today’s digital landscape, various tools have emerged to assist in tracking instances of unauthorised image usage, and one notable standout is Google Images.

Google Images offers a potent means to proactively safeguard your creative work.

It allows you to conduct searches across the web to identify where your images are being used without permission.

By regularly using this tool, you gain the upper hand in protecting your intellectual property.

When you detect any unauthorised usage, you can swiftly take the necessary actions to address these infringements.

This proactive approach to monitoring unauthorised image use ensures that you remain in control of your original content.

Steps to Take if Someone Takes Your Photo Without Permission

When you discover that your images have been stolen and are being used without your permission, it’s crucial to take prompt action to prevent their unauthorised spread.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Notify the Offender: Begin by sending a polite notice to the individual or entity responsible for using your original images without consent. Avoid using complex legal jargon or making threats. Instead, politely inform them of the copyright infringement and request that they promptly remove your materials to avoid potential legal consequences.
  2. Consider a Warning Email: A simple warning email can be surprisingly effective, as most individuals and entities would prefer to avoid legal repercussions. Clearly, communicate the issue and the need for immediate action.
  3. Contact Their Hosting Provider: If the offender does not respond or refuses to comply with your request, you can escalate the matter by contacting their hosting provider. Hosting providers often have policies against copyright infringement and may take action to remove the infringing content.
  4. Professional Takedown Service: For a more comprehensive approach, consider using a professional takedown service. These services are experts in handling copyright infringement cases and can manage the entire process on your behalf, from notification to resolution.

Taking legal action against image infringement is essential to protect your creative work and assert your rights as a content creator.

While it can be a challenging process, addressing infringements promptly can help prevent further unauthorised use and ensure that your intellectual property remains secure.


Safeguarding your copyrighted images is of paramount importance in the digital age.

While copyright law provides essential legal protections, the process involves more than just obtaining a copyright certificate.

By following these basic steps, including proactive monitoring and employing DMCA protection measures, you can significantly reduce the chances of your images being subject to theft on social media websites and third-party platforms.

For average users and seasoned content creators alike, the importance of regularly implementing strong methods cannot be overstated.

Whether through watermarking, metadata, or screenshot protection, these practical methods ensure that your creative work remains in the hands of its rightful author.

Seeking legal advice when necessary and filing a copyright claim can also be efficient methods to enforce your copyright details.

Remember that alternate options, such as professional takedown services, exist to handle image infringements on your behalf.

By taking a proactive approach and staying informed about authoritative websites and legal developments, you can protect your images effectively and maintain control over your valuable intellectual property.


How do I copyright my work?

In many countries, your work is automatically copyrighted when created and fixed in a tangible form.

However, registering with a copyright office can provide additional legal benefits.

What is copyright for digital images?

Copyright for digital images grants the copyright owner exclusive rights to their photos, including reproduction, distribution, and display, in digital formats.

How can I copyright my digital photos?

Copyright for your digital photos is automatic upon creation. You don’t need to take specific actions to establish copyright. However, registering with a copyright office can provide added legal benefits.

How can I protect my copyrighted images online?

You can protect your images by using watermarks, embedding metadata, monitoring unauthorised usage, and issuing DMCA take-down notices when necessary.

Are there alternatives to legal action for image copyright protection?

Yes, you can explore alternatives such as licensing agreements, watermarking, and embedding copyright information to protect your content from theft without resorting to legal measures.

How often should I monitor my images online?

It’s advisable to monitor your images online on a regular basis, especially if you have a significant online presence or valuable copyrighted content.

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