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The Internet is a wonderful place filled with information, products, and entertainment. The Internet is also, however, filled with people who really want to rip you off. It’s just the nature of the beast, and you have to take the good with the bad if you want all the benefits of a small business website.

One major concern for entrepreneurs on the web is protecting the images they use on their websites. That’s why we’ve compiled five tips for helping small business website owners protect their intellectual property. Before we get started, it should be noted that there is no sure-fire way to keep your images from being misused – but you can make it a lot harder to do.

I’ve heard it said that the only way to be sure your images don’t get stolen online is to never put them there in the first place. You’ll notice this option did not make my list because, in 2014, that’s not a real option. It’s like saying that the best way to not get mugged is to never leave you house. For many businesses, putting images online is the reason you got a website in the first place.

1. Use a watermark
Placing a transparent logo or copyright symbol on your digital images is a very effective way to keep them from being misused. The drawback is that, be default, it distracts from the overall look and appeal of your image. You can make it very subtle to mitigate this side effect, and it’s quite effective against people pretending your image is their own. (I created the watermark below using Photoshop, but there are lots of ways to do this – just search Youtube!)

Image with a watermark

2. Only post low-resolution images
This method is really for professional photographers who want to prevent having their high- or print-resolution (300 dpi) images downloaded and printed. Because computers display all images as screen- or low-resolution (72 dpi) this doesn’t do much to prevent people from copying or saving an image from your website and posting it on their own.

3. Disable right clicking
Right clicking is where much of the problem begins, isn’t it? Those convenient features that browsers like Chrome have built in to make it easy to save and copy images have really come back to bite us. One way to combat right-click saving is to use a piece of Javascript code that disables this feature. Is this foolproof? Absolutely not – Javascript is easily disabled on web pages. However, having to take this extra step might be just enough of a barrier to get people to move on. Installing it requires a bit of tech-savvy, but the instructions are pretty clear.

Right click menu screenshot

4. Spell out your policies
While the laws around intellectual property are clear, it’s always a good idea to spell things out. First of all, not everyone on the Internet is aware (somehow) that other people’s images are not just fair game, so it’s good to educate them when you can. Second, it’s helpful in making litigation easier if it should come to that. If you can point to where you explicitly said your images are not for reproduction, it shouldn’t be hard to get the violation resolved. Also, if you’re interested in spreading your brand, you can state in your policies that people are welcome to re-use your images provided that they link back to your website.

5. Contact copyright violators directly
Never underestimate the power of shaming, folks. As a freelance photographer myself, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of running across one of my images on a website that had no business using it. But I’ve found that simply addressing the offender and letting them know that they’ve been caught is often enough to get the image taken down immediately. My approach is usually something like the following:

“Hello! I’m so delighted that you’ve chosen my image to use as the header for your website. As you know, images are the property of the creator, and I’d be happy to license it to you for use. Please see my attached licensing fees. Thanks!”

Not only can you stop the thief, you might even be able to get some money out of it. One great way to check and see if your images have been “borrowed” is to run a reverse image search on Google. Using the Chrome browser, you can right-click any image on the web and select “Search Google for this image” and you will get a page that looks like the one below:

Google reverse image search resultsHappily, the only place this particular image is found is website of the magazine I shot it for. If you do find that an unauthorized site is using your image – and it bothers you enough to address the issue – try the approach detailed above.

What other suggestions do you have for protecting your images on the web? Let us know in the comments section!

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the Content Marketing Manager at Webs, where she also manages marketing for Pagemodo – a suite of social media tools. Loves marketing, small businesses, and whales. Get more from Sarah on the Webs Blog and Google+.

2 Responses

  1. Reply
    Emmy Godwin
    Aug 20, 2014 - 09:59 PM

    This is great

  2. Reply
    Concepcion Lopez Quiroga
    Aug 23, 2014 - 02:10 PM

    Thank you for sharing this information. It is really frustrating to find people who come to you with all your pictures copied in their pcs. Why to they need to copy it all?

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