How To Protect Your Photos From Infringement

The PicScout Study by the Stock Artists Alliance found that 6 percent of images uploaded to online directories are used improperly within a year of being posted. More tellingly, almost 80 percent of the images were sourced from one of the most popular online repositories: Getty Images.


Watermark Your Photos

While many websites add their own watermarks, the addition of a personal watermark will make your work much harder to steal. Hidden watermarks, such as those outlined by Phlearn, aren’t visible with normal browsing but will reveal themselves after an image is saved. While watermarks can be removed, multiple watermarks will make the process harder. People who illegally use intellectual property will likely move on to easier targets when confronted rather than deal with difficult-to-remove watermarks.

Use Reputable Directories

Flickr and Pinterest have become extremely popular platforms for aspiring and professional photographers to display their work. Flickr offers the ability to place images in a “creative commons” space where anyone may use them for commercial or editorial purposes, subject to the terms specified by whomever owns the images. Getty Images has been around for nearly 20 years and is one of the oldest stock- and media-image sites; it licenses images on behalf of photographers. Users buy the rights to use the images, typically through monthly or annual license fees.

Upload to a Single Site

There is no system such as Lifelock, which protects your personal identity, for intellectual property. You can spot check your images by doing a reverse image search, which looks for duplicate images in the same way a plagiarism checker looks for duplicate content. Nothing can stop someone from taking a screen shot of your copyrighted material, but you can use a few safeguards to protect people from illegally downloading them. suggests disabling the right click, using image tiles or using Flash to disable theft of your photos.

Enforce Your Copyright

Your first course of action is to contact the site’s developer and ask him or her to take down (or pay you for) the unauthorized image. David Peterson of DigitalPhotoSecrets says if someone steals your image, “don’t worry about it,” unless:

  • You’re dealing with a for-profit business or publication
  • The person is making money with photography

He adds that copyright infringement that happens outside the U.S. is difficult to enforce. For example, Ukraine, Nigeria and Haiti have very low intellectual property right protections, according to Property Rights Alliance, while Finland, New Zealand and Switzerland offer the highest. In other words, it’s not worth going after someone if you aren’t going to win. If you decide to sue a person or entity that has stolen your copyrighted work, you’ll look for an attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights.