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how to catch a thiefThe most widely used method for photographers and artists to protect their work online is by using the watermark. Basically, a transparent yet fully visible image laid over the original image to signify that the image is not to be copied or used for free or without permission.

This will work for most people, but then there are the determined thieves who target the prized works of well known photographers without giving the poor schmuck a dime.

You see, watermarks aren’t 100% fool-proof; there are programs that some unscrupulous characters use to digitally remove the watermarks or to minimize them so they’re barely visible. Thus defeating the purpose of trying to protect images by using what is now a primitive method – not to mention crude and unattractive.

In this article I’m going to show you three great ways to protect your web images without breaking the bank on complex encryption programs.


One method to protect web images is to cut them up into several different images and put them all side by side to form one whole image. Then, anyone who tries to save the image will only get a small segment of it. The result is that they have to tediously click around the image, guessing where the cuts have been made and then paste them all together. Big images such as the ones found on photographers’ and artists’ blogs can be cut up into over 20 or 30 pieces.


This acts as a deterrent to most copies and they’ll look elsewhere.

Probably the best program for the novice user to automatically splice images before they go live on your site is Super Simple Image Tiles.

protect images splicing HTML

All you have to do to activate it on a particular image, once you have installed it on your web directory using the instructions included in the download, is to slightly alter the image’s HTML. Most blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger offer HTML editors alongside the text editor. Simply enter “˜Protect‘ in the image HTML as I did in the screenshot above.

J-Query Plug-in

The way most people steal an image is to simply right-click on it and select “˜Save As‘.

protect images install pluginsThe tried and tested method, if you will. However, you can nip the problem in the bud by taking away the “˜Save’ function when someone right-clicks on your image.

The plug in for this is available right here to download for free, along with the instructions. It will also disable any kind of image saving toolbar or add-on in a browser which a user may utilise instead of right clicking.

The plug-in is as lightweight as possible and as such shouldn’t effect the speed or functionality of your pages, all the while keeping your images safe.

Again, this program simply needs to be installed onto your web directory as a plug-in which the big names offer on their dashboards.

Embed as Flash

The final option to protect web images is to upload your images as a flash file instead of as an image. This will disable right clicking as well but it also gives you more options about what to do with your images in terms of web-design which would be hindered if you were using a plug-in which may conflict with Flash design. Basically, you can style your images using CSS properties.

SWF”“IR (the SWF originating from Flash’s file extension and the IR standing for “˜Image Replacement’) is available here. Upload it to your web directory.

Then, to put it to work on your post, place this HTML in the <head> section of your post:

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”swfir.js”></script>

So there you have it webmasters and photographers. Protect your images the best way you can for free by using the above methods. Remember, images are never 100% secure online but these methods will stop 99% of thieves from stealing your high-resolution originals.

BONUS: To see whether people have already copied your image(s) online, use Google’s “˜Similar Images’ app here.

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  1. Rei
    February 8, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Splicing is pain in the ass. It cant be cached.

  2. image clipping
    October 21, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Great stuff!!

  3. pceasies
    October 18, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    At least disable hotlinking on your webserver. That way, if they do steal the image and use it on another website, they use there own bandwidth, not yours. Flash is great, except it makes the page bigger (slower loading) and a lot of plugins disable flash and not everyone has flash.

  4. xordy
    October 17, 2009 at 6:32 am

    splicing and flash methods will not work if viewer using firefox + noscript add-on

  5. Aibek
    October 16, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    exellent tips!

  6. mcaulay
    October 16, 2009 at 8:26 am

    If you put your images on the web, they're "stealable". All methods above can be easily bypassed by taking a screengrab and cropping the image. Rather bizarrely, the method of watermarking which was so quickly dismissed at the start of this article is probably your best option.

  7. Ram
    October 16, 2009 at 1:53 am

    there is now way to stop that, even we can get images in flash by using screen capture tools

    If they are really personal we should not upload them

  8. Jeff
    October 15, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    I don't get it. If you don't want your images "stolen," don't upload them to the internet. Simple, no?

    • Me-mysqlf
      October 22, 2009 at 7:44 am

      Damn I thought you only look retarded but you are way more than that!

  9. randomvisitor
    October 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    i'm afraid none of these methods would prevent even a semi-experienced user from stealing your images. there's printscreen (with plugins/addons for it in some browsers), there's javascript disabling, and there's cache mining. sad, but true: you don't want something stolen on the web, then don't put it on the web.

    the best countermeasure imo is still using a somewhat obtrusive watermark (covering some of the most important bits of your image to make editing it out hard.) of course, it takes away from the beauty and/or usefulness of your image.

    the second best countermeasure is using small enough images that are pretty useless for anything serious.

    bonus: or use, a reverse image search engine with a growing database. seems better than google's current solution since you can specify / upload images.

    • Dean Sherwin
      October 16, 2009 at 8:19 am

      Indeed. All one has to do to grab an image is to press 'Print Screen' and then paste in MS paint. But to stop high resolution images being stolen and used as prints etc... the above will definitely help.

  10. Gary
    October 15, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    All you need is a clipping tool to get around any of your suggestions.

  11. delaorden
    October 15, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    my friend... there's no way to avoid copy and paste or save as... I just use fast stone capture... it just captures everything.

    • Dean Sherwin
      October 16, 2009 at 8:22 am

      'Save As' can be avoided. But any photographer worth his merit certainly won't display full resolution pics that are actually worth money. They'll probably be half the size of your screen. If you clip it and try to use it as a wallpaper or in any publication, it will be low quality and worthless.

      Screen capture is definitely an easy option, but not one that gets the best results. Anyone can press 'Print Screen', but the picture wont be worth of hanging on a wall or using in a magazine.

  12. Todd
    October 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I was able to download all the images at the Super Simple site by using the Firefox extension NoScript, so probably not the most secure way of protecting your images unfortunately.

    • TR1
      November 11, 2009 at 9:17 pm

      Actually, there is an option to watermark the original image, so you would have only been able to download a watermarked version.
      Using the activity monitor in safari, or firebug, you can easily download images that are loaded in via flash, or protected by a right-click disabler.
      of course the easiest thing to do is just take a screenshot. There is no level of software that will protect that.
      There is no way to protect images that are on the web, but we are looking for ways to make it much harder.