Protecting your work from photo theft is hard. On one side, you want to gain as much publicity as possible from your internet presence. On the other, you don’t want to make your work too accessible and miss out on paying customers as a result. Watermarks often destroy the aesthetic value of a picture, and metadata inside photos can be easily removed. Disabling right-click is so 1999. We’ve identified five new ways to protect your images against theft without placing undue restrictions on your work.

1. Employ “hidden” CSS watermarks against photo theft

Ryan Cooper has a great guide at PHlearn on how to utilize “hidden” watermarks that don’t distract from the photo. With a bit of CSS, you can add watermarks to your photos that only appear when a photo is downloaded.

“The process is very simple. When it comes time to export an image for posting on your website simply add some empty pixels to the bottom of the photo and add your watermark there. In these examples I am using a 20px watermark but you are free to use any size you would like.”

Unfortunately, this trick only works for your personal site and the watermarks aren’t impossible to remove, but it’s a no-brainer to implement.

2. Naming and Shaming


When Reddit user FrancescaO_O caught Huffington Post lifting her work (via PetaPixel), she realized they were also hotlinking it from her site. What’s a better thing to do than publicly shame them? HuffPo refused to credit Francesca when she asked (she didn’t even ask for removal), so she took things into her own hands and replaced the hotlinked image with one bearing the message above. While not a way to prevent photo theft per say, Francesca’s actions are an excellent deterrent to would-be thieves.

3. Register with the U.S. Copyright Office

Even if you live outside the United States, a U.S. copyright registration is a powerful tool if your work is stolen in the States. Should an infringement be severe enough that you wish to seek financial remedies, a registration filed before the infringement entitles you to statutory damages of $750- $30,000 per infringement. Without the registration, you’d have to prove actual damages. Watch out for advice suggesting a “poor man’s copyright” or alternative registration services. There’s no substitute for an official registration. I recommend that even non-US photographers register. So much photo theft occurs in the US that it’s almost certainly worth it. Check out 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Copyright Registration for all the details.

4. Use Original File Names

This may seem like another no-brainer, but most people don’t consider that a) many infringers are too lazy to change a file name and b) file names are easy to find on Google. Include your name in the file name of each photo or use a very original name. Instead of “new orleans.jpg,” for example, try “new-orleans-friday-afternoon.jpg.” Avoid filenames like “image1.jpg” that infringers may change for better SEO.

This technique is great because unlike metadata, file names must be manually changed and many people don’t bother to do it.

5. Find any use of your work with PIXSY and fight photo theft

We’re a supporter of anything that helps artists protect their work, but we feel very strongly that our system is the best for guarding against copyright infringement. Our tool lets you find your photos anywhere on the web. Just import your work at any time and see where it’s currently published online. Better yet, PIXSY can also invoice infringers on your behalf and make sure you get paid for your work. When we find photo theft, we can help you use your work as a marketing tool and request backlinks to your site.