How to Protect Your Digital Photos From Being Copied

photographer and laptop
Cavan Images/Iconica/Getty Images

If you take photos (and who with a smartphone doesn't take photos these days?), you probably have posted them online, either on your own website or on a social media site, for example. It can be fairly easy for viewers to save those images on their computer—and this might be something you would prefer they not do. Image theft—especially if you are a photographer or designer—is a familiar problem, and it is probably something you would like to prevent.

There are a few measures you can take make it more difficult to copy your images from your site. Below are some options. However, as with most security measures in technology, these can be bypassed with some effort.

Using "No Right-Click" Scripts

One of the simplest ways to help prevent your images from being copied without your permission is to put up a no right-click script. When people right click on your page, they will either get no options to download the image, or they will get a pop-up error message (depending upon how you code the script).

This is very easy to do, but also easy to get around.

Shrink Wrapping Images

Shrink wrapping an image is a JavaScript technique where you display your image with another, transparent image overlaid on top. When a visitor tries to download the image, they get something else instead—usually a blank image.

For someone who is determined, this method can be circumvented as well.

Watermarking Is an Effective Deterrent

Watermarking is where you place an overlay directly on the image. This usually impacts the quality of the image such that potential thieves don't want to steal it. This is a very effective way to protect your online images if you don't mind the text across the top of them.

Using Flash to Protect Your Images

It is also possible to set up a slideshow in Flash to display your images. This makes it impossible for thieves to download the images directly. Unfortunately, using Flash can prevent some of your visitors from seeing your images if their systems do not support Flash. For example, Apple products such as iPads and iPhones do not run Flash, so your images would not be viewable by these visitors.

Fully Protecting Your Images Is Impossible

If you post your images online, it is possible for someone to steal them and use them somewhere else, no matter what you do to protect them.

No right-click scripts can be defeated by viewing the source code and browsing to the image directly. Shrink wrapping the images can be defeated in a similar way.

Watermarks can be removed, though this is more difficult. 

Even if you embed your images in a Flash object to protect them, it is possible to take a screenshot of your image displayed on their screen. The quality may not be as good as the original, however.

If your image is so valuable that you want to be sure no one ever steals it, the only surefire way to prevent it is to not post an image online.