You put your heart, soul, time, talent, and skill into your photographs. You share your beloved images online, only to find someone else has copied them and is using them elsewhere without permission or attribution.
You may feel the need to protect your photos if you’ve ever stumbled across one of your images being used without your knowledge or approval. This is an issue for both professional and amateur photographers who share their work with the world through the internet.
Unauthorized re-use of images is rampant online, but there are some steps you can take to deter digital thieves.
How to use watermarks
The idea of watermarks comes from before the internet age. Paper manufacturers would press an image or text into wet paper to identify it as their own. These days, a digital watermark does a similar job.
Your watermark could simply be your name or your company logo and can include a copyright symbol and the date if you prefer. You can add a watermark to an image using an image editing program, like Adobe Photoshop. Microsoft's Paint program can work for this, too. The easiest way to handle the task is to add text over the top of an image using the text tool.
You can add text in the corner if you want to be unobtrusive, though some people choose to use larger watermarks across a main part of the image. Just keep in mind this approach can detract from the photo's appearance, so you may want to keep it more subtle.
If you’re mainly a smartphone photographer, then check out apps like the business-focused Salt watermark app for Android or eZy Watermark, which is available for both Android and iOS. These apps make it easy to add your watermark before you share images online from your phone.
There are ways around watermarks. Someone could crop the photo, or, in extreme cases, digitally manipulate the image to remove it, but it can deter causal internet users from borrowing your images without permission.
Set your own terms of service
If you run your own website, then be sure to make it easy for visitors to know your terms of service. You can put it right there on the page that you reserve all rights to images and that people must contact you for permission to re-use them.
You may choose to allow your photos into the creative commons, a way of licensing images for others to use legitimately. But you can still stipulate how they may be used. For example, you could allow them only for non-commercial endeavors with proper attribution. Whatever you choose, make it easy for web users to find your terms.
Keep your photos safe by not posting
This tip is more for serious photographers who may be trying to advertise and sell their images online. Don’t causally offer high-resolution photos that anyone can potentially download. Smaller sizes and low-resolution thumbnails can communicate what the image is about while making it hard for someone to copy and re-use it.
While you can take steps to deter people from grabbing images, the only sure-fire way to keep them from being copied is to not post them online in the first place. For casual internet users, a watermark is the easiest and fastest way to leave your stamp on your photos. It’s not perfect, but it’s a smart move if you feel the need for a little extra protection for your images.
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