How do you protect your images, which are your intellectual property, in the age of the internet? The short answer is that the only way to keep your images from being used without your permission is to keep them off the internet. A good rule of thumb for would-be image grabbers is that if you can see it, you can steal it.
There are various schemes for protecting your images, but none of them are very effective. They include:
- Using text in the image area that says ©Copyright 2011 John Jacob Jingleheimer, All Rights Reserved. This has the decided disadvantage of ruining the look of images on your web site. It’s also not as hard as you think to use the rubber stamp tool in Photoshop to remove it.
- Embedding a watermark in Photoshop. These too are fairly easy to work around, using filters for example.
- Including html code that causes the image to be blocked or covered by a message (like “Click here to buy this image”). All you have to do is take a screen shot and open it in an image editor to steal those.
- Making your images so small or so compressed that no one could use them. The trouble with this is that if they look bad to would-be image thieves, they look bad to everyone, and no one wants to show off bad-looking images.
I meant to talk about this sooner, and I always explain the situation to my students because they always ask. The reason I am addressing it now is that I ran across an amusing example of one of my photos migrating through the web. Shot in 1997 in downtown Norman, Oklahoma, this black-and-white image was made with an Olympus rangefinder pocket camera, and depicts one of the funniest pieces of graffiti I have ever scene: “Your Plan is Puny” on a wall in spray paint.
In any case, this example points out that anything you produce and share on the web becomes vulnerable to intellectual property theft the moment you upload it. The real trick is not minding that it gets pinched. In fact, unless the perpetrator is claiming to have created it or is making money from it, it’s almost a weird form of flattery.
Also consider this and let it blow your mind: what if taking this picture in the first place constituted theft of the intellectual property of the graffiti artist?