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Protecting Images by DonEc

People that have websites with images have a common problem of dishonest people stealing their images. There are so many ways to steal images from a website that it seems there is nothing we can do. While it is true that there is no way to stop a determined person from stealing images there are some things we can do to make it more difficult and things we can do to help prove to the courts the image is ours after the fact.

The first thing we need to do is discuss what methods are used to steal our images so we can find ways to stop the theft.

The most common method of stealing images and probably the easiest is called hotlinking. This is where someone creates a link on their site that goes to your server and grabs the image and views it on their site. This uses your server bandwidth for their site and gives neither you or your host anything for its use.

Some people are a little more determined and more willing to put out more effort. These people will copy your image and load it onto their site. There are several ways they can do this. The simplest would be to either screen copy the screen and crop the image into the part they want or they could decide to right click on the image and copy it. If the image is a background image then the right click context menu may contain the option to save, copy or view the background image allowing even background images to be copied.

Even if someone is able to stop the right clicking and copying images from the screen people can still get the images by going to their own computer and browsing through their Internet cache to find the images for the sites they have visited since they are all there.

Then once someone gets your image how do you prove the image is yours and not theirs?

My first response to any kind of image theft is a good watermark that is semitransparent, multicolored, large and placed over a complicated portion of the image. This will show people the image belongs to you.

My response to illegal hotlinking, screen copy and right copy is to place on the main image a good watermark, then add the word "Stolen" in bold black letters in the middle of the image and use this image as the background for a CSS box or table. Then placing an image shaped so it will cover the word stolen inside the CSS box or table. This will make the image appear to be a normal with a good watermark showing to the page viewer. However! When someone hotlinks to the image they will only get the word stolen with the text filled with the pattern of the main image. When anyone tries to right click to copy all they can get is again the word stolen with the text filled with the pattern of the main image. Even if they try to use right click and use the view or copy the background image they will find that option is not there since the browser thinks what is wanted is the image inside the CSS box or table so the menu doesn't even see the background image.

For the people that are more determine, are willing to do more work to get the main image and know how to get the images from your HTML source code and CSS source code there are three things I suggest. The first is to use numbers for your image names and CSS boxes. This makes it harder to read the code. The second being to remove (from both source code files) the white space and join all your lines together into one long line making the code again harder to visually read but is no problem for a browser to read. The third is to make your source code appear hidden while telling viewers the code is copyrighted by adding a comment line for your HTML source code just before your tag with something like "Why are you trying to see my source code? You should know my source code is copyright protected DonEc ©". Then place about 56 blank lines to push all your code off the screen. You should do the same thing for your external CSS file but place the comment and the blank lines at the very beginning of your code.

In the event your images are stolen even after doing all these things you still need to be able to prove the image is yours and not theirs. There are a couple of things you can do. One is to make a hidden watermark on your image. Being hidden the watermark will most likely not be removed. To make a hidden watermark you find an area on your image that will probably not be cropped out of the image and doesn't have much black in it. Then make a double shadow, one up one down, of the text you want to use for the hidden watermark in the area you have chosen but on a separate layer. Once you have the double shadow image get rid of the actual text. Leaving only the double shadow on it's layer. Then create a screen overlay with every other pixel being black and place this screen overlay, on it's own layer, over the double shadow layer. Select the black pixels of the screen overlay. Switch to the double shadow layer and delete the double shadow black pixels that are selected. Merge the almost invisible double shadow layer to the main background layer. This makes the double shadow mostly invisible. When a screen overlay with every other pixel being black is placed over the image, at this point the whole image will darken a little but the double shadow text will show proving the image is yours. You can also pay to have a third party digital watermark added to the image. The third party will keep the digital watermark in their database.

All these steps can be removed by a determined thief but these steps will make it more difficult and make it almost impossible for amateur to do.

About the Author:

DonEc is the designer, creator and owner of Best Web Stop ( He has been working with computers since 1974 and been creating websites with WYSIWYG non-HTML web programs since 1992. He is retired and provides No Cost WebSite instruction via Best Web Stop as a service to people that want to have a totally free, no cost presence on the web or just want to avoid learning HTML. In some cases he has been known to build sites for a small fee if asked. However he requires the owner of the site to learn how to create a site so they can maintain the site themselves.

Copy and/or reproduction of this article is allowed as long as it is not altered in any way and the section "About the author" is kept with the article including these instructions. Article Copyright © 2004 by DonEc
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