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Protecting Your Images on the Internet

Text and Photography Copyright Jan Allinder
All rights reserved.

While there are no sure fire ways to keep your images from being stolen right off your web page, there are a few techniques that will discourage many would be "thieves". Let's explore some of these remedies.

In order to understand what we're up against, we first must understand just how images can be taken from a web page. There are 5 different ways to grab an image from a web site.

  1. "Save Image As" with the right click mouse action.
  2. Saving the page in IE5 grabs all images on the page including backgrounds.
  3. Directly linking to where the image is stored on the server.
  4. Open the image from browser cache located in the Temporary Internet Folder.
  5. Screen capture programs and PrintScreen.

Watermark | Roll-over | Table | Caching | Section | JavaScript | Encryption | A Solution

Embedding your copyright is one way to protect your image. This can be done digitally with programs like Digimarc or by placing a visible copyright on the image itself. Digimarc embeds information in your image which will in turn link to your identity. For a fee, these images can then be tracked across the Web. Digital watermarks are easy to create and read. One advantage/disadvantage is there is no visible type to interfere with your image quality. Digimarc plug-ins are available for several different graphics programs including PhotoShop and Paint Shop Pro.

In addition to including a written copyright notice at the bottom of each web page (see below), I like to place my name along with the copyright symbol on all of my photos. Some people opt to emboss the © or their logo within their image. For more details on how to create an embossed copyright symbol on your image, please refer to my article.

Roll-over and JavaScript
A relatively easy technique that can be used to display your copyright notice is a rollover image. Once set up, when the mouse is moved over the image, a second image appears ("rolls over" the first) with a copyright notice. Move your mouse over the above image to view an example of the rollover technique.

Since the right click mouse action is the most common way to grab an image, "deactivating" this action is an obvious solution. There are several JavaScripts available that serve to disable the right click action. Keep in mind that these JavaScripts do not work if the browser is not Java compatible OR if the user has the turned off the enable Java option. Not all of these will work on the Mac platform either. If you'd like to see how this works, visit my site and see it in action. I've created an Adobe Acrobat file (PDF) that contains my favorite right click JavaScript. It includes the source code as well as instructions on how to use it on your web page.

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The Table method is similar to using layers. Set up a table the same size as the photograph you want to protect. Insert the photo as the table's background image. Next, create a new table within the first table. The second table should be the same size as the first table. Within this second table you will insert a "null" image.

To create a null image, open a new, transparent document in your image editor and set the dimensions to the same as those of the photo you are hiding. Save this blank image as a transparent GIF file. Place the null/empty image within the second table. Essentially, you've copied over the first image with a "see-through" image. Even though it appears that you can right click and grab the image, all you'll be grabbing is an empty GIF file.

This is a pretty neat trick. However, the image itself still resides in the browsers cache and you can still swipe the image by locating the file name in the source code.

Null Image
Table Version

Image Directory Protection
Here's one important step that many people often overlook. Most web designers place photographs and graphics in a separate "images" directory. Browsers look for an index page within each sub-directory If there is not one there, a complete directory listing of all of your image files will come up. This means that anyone can get a complete list of all your images and grab anything they want!!! The best way to stop this is to place an index page in the same directory where you have placed your images. Visit Lucid Images images directory to see how I've handled this.

Browser Caching
You can prevent browsers from caching the images on your web pages. Insert the following code between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags of your web page. <META http-equiv="Pragma" content="no-cache">

Images 1Image 2
Image 3Image 4
Image divided into 4 sections
placed within a two row table.

Another very effective alternative is the Section method. Start off by dividing your image into four pieces. Save each of these as a separate JPEG file. Next, create a table with two rows, zero border. Place the two images that make up the top half of your image in the top row and the other two images in the bottom row. While this does help discourage folks from swiping the image, it's a very time consuming project. It's easy to do, but who has the time to divide all of their images into four separate images?

Java Slide-Show
There are some really nice Java slide show scripts available. In many situations, this is a great choice for displaying your images. My two favorites are available at Anfy. Both Book Flip and CrossFade are very nice applets. You can also assign links to each image.

A few software companies have introduces programs that "encrypt" your image. (Actually, it's the file name that is encrypted.) Image Protect by Gamacles Software will encrypt the source code in addition to your image. Internet Expressions has a couple of very nice programs in SafeImage & SafeImage Server. These programs allow you to create images that can only be viewed from a licensed viewer and domain. While this is an excellent program, it is rather confusing to implement. I've used Image Protect and SafeImage. However, I find Artistscope's Secure Image Pro to be the easiest to use and one of the most effective in preventing someone from stealing your photographs. Artistscope also offers a registered version of Secure Image absolutely FREE!!!

In addition to Secure Image Pro, Artistscope has a new product entitled Copy Safe. This product protects your valuable images against the 5 ways to copy images. I've tried the Copy Safe demo and it looks very promising. However, it comes with a price. At nearly US$1,000.00, Copy Safe is more suitable for galleries, professionals and serious amateur photographers.

I would also like to mention another product that will soon to be available to the general public entitled Clever Content Creator by Alchemedia. This is a web-based service located at for companies or individuals with web sites located on shared servers, ISPs or community sites. Images protected with Clever Content Creator are routed through's encryption filters en route to the surfer's browser. They will also offer Clever Content Galleries for companies or individuals without a web site, "providing a fee-based venue for storing and protecting up to 50 images."

What's my Solution?
I use thumbnails on my web site. These thumbnails are "protected" by a right click JavaScript. To view the larger image, visitors click on the thumbnail image. The larger image is what I have protected through Secure Image Pro. During the process of encrypting the image, an HTML file with the code and photo are created. All that's left for me to do is link the thumbnail image to the newly created web page. To see Secure Image Pro in action, visit the Bird Gallery section of my web site. I plan to implement Copy Safe in the Mammals & Scenic Places Galleries on Lucid Images Wildlife Photography.

It's a shame that we have to go to such measures to protect our images, but the fact remains many people mistakenly think our work is free for the taking simply because it appears on Internet. I would like to think many of these thefts are just out of ignorance. Please, unless it is clearly stated that the image, graphic, article or music is free, ask for the owner's permission to use them.

All Images are protected under US and International copyright laws and belong to Lucid Images Wildlife Photography. Please respect artists' copyrights by only viewing the content of this page on your computer in its live published form. Altering, printing, copying, distributing or any other unauthorized use of the images or content on this site requires written authorization. We would gladly assist you in any image needs from this site, just drop us an e-mail

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Article and Photos © 2000 Jan A. Allinder - Lucid Images
All Rights Reserved

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