Protecting your Images Online
by Barb Young
How can we photographers promote and share our images without using the Internet? Other than "old fashioned" flyers and direct mail, we can't really, at least not so easily or efficiently. So, how can we protect our images, when we do post them online, whether in a forum, on a social networking site or our own websites? Here are some suggestions:
Copyright: One Woman's Viewpoint
1. Make sure your image is watermarked, i.e. that it has some kind of signature on it that identifies the photographer and to whom the image belongs, and that the image is sized very small at a low resolution. Use the text tool in any image editor program (Picassa from Google.com is free and good for PC and iPhoto comes with Mac) to add your name, and use the image editor to easily resize your photo for web viewing. 500 pixels on the long side, jpeg at 60%, for instance is small, still viewable, but will make a lousy print for those who steal it. (If this sounds like Greek, use the "help" function in your photo editor, and look up "image resolution" on Google for further explanation on the difference between web and print size images.) Also very helpful in tracking your images is to add metadata to your image that has your copyright information in it. This embeds the data into the image file information, which can be seen when you look at the image file info in your image editing program. And many cameras can be set to add your copyright information to your image as it is captured in the camera. Check your camera manual. Otherwise you can add metadata including copyright information, keywords and other information in single or batch mode in image editors like Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom, BreezeBrowserPro. Use your Help feature in your image editor for more information. For many photographers adding meta and EXIF data to their photos is just a normal part of their workflow.
2. There are many photos being copied and used by others that are lovely images, but have no signature or identifying watermark of any kind, so people think they can just copy and use these "orphan" photos. Some folks have made galleries and galleries of lovely, but unmarked, stolen images on their social pages. If you wish to share a photo with your social network friends, share the link, do not copy the photo without permission.
3. There are programs like Digimarc (DMRC) that embed tracking software in your images, so they can be found anywhere on the internet. These are worthwhile and expensive. There is also encryption software (for the more technical minded) and java scripts that prevent right click copying of images, for instance. The bottom line is that if someone wants to copy your photos, they will find a way to do that. There are simple explanations for most available tools and methods to protect your images here: http://www.wildlifephoto.net/articles/webdesign/imageprotection.html
4. In the United States, images can be registered with the U.S.Copyright Office, so that if your image is stolen and used for financial gain, you have legal recourse.
http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl107.html. There are many articles on the internet about how to register your images, and they can be done in batches. Registering your images with the Copyright protection agency in your country should be done on a regular basis. There is some great information about international copyright protection here: http://blog.photoshelter.com/2010/09/us-copyright-tips-for-international-photographers/,
5. Many photographers feel that, as long as their images are sized very small, as described above, a well watermarked image, copied and stolen by others, is advertising.
The bottom line on posting our images on the internet is to have them well marked and small. A digitally imbedded tracking, such as Digimarc (dot com), and/or an adjacent, brief copyright statement are good ideas as well.
I am not a lawyer, so this is only my interpretation of copyright, along with several references from experts on the subject. By law (U.S. and International) a photo is the copyright of the photographer the instant the camera shutter button is clicked, and the image is captured on film or digital media. This is true for every photographer, amateur, professional or hobbyist. Only you, the copyright holder, can do as you wish with your image. Copyright Law prevents others from copying, printing, displaying, or making "derivative work" (for instance using your image in a design or painting) without your express permission for them to do so.
The United States has signed treaties with countries all over the world, so copyright protection is effective in most countries. Of course it's best to check copyright laws in one's own country, easily found by internet search.
Some useful references with simple language:
Image registration articles:
U.S. Copyright Office