A guide to limiting ‘casual copying’ of images online



Stock image: Shutterstock

Once your images are online, protecting them from being copied can seem impossible. While it is a difficult area to police, there are some measures you can take to limit ‘casual copying’.

Using third party websites and social channels

Understanding what measures are taken to respect and protect your copyright on third party sites is an important part of deciding where to make your work publicly available. Always check the copyright terms of the sites you load your images to before publishing your content.

A small image size and low resolution (no greater than 120dpi) will also reduce the likelihood of artworks being copied and printed because the quality will be poor. As a general rule of thumb, size your image to fit the dimensions of where it will appear at a 1:1 ratio. For example, a 200 pixel width space should be filled by a 200 pixel width image. Many photo software editing tools include a resize option for websites, which will apply the appropriate resolution for you.

Some software will also allow you to attach copyright information as metadata or digital watermarks to each individual file. These are known as Electronic Rights Management Information (ERMI) which, under the Copyright Act, it is illegal to remove or alter. It is good practice to include the name of the image’s creator or rights holder along with other important facts such as the work’s title, a simple copyright notice, or the capture time and location before publishing your images online.

Adding a visible watermark to images to discourage copying is another useful strategy, though one with limitations. A watermark can be removed using photo editing software and may not be viable over a small-scale image (like a thumbnail). It may also negatively impact the aesthetics of the image.

On your own website

Alongside the protection methods outlined above, there are other measures to consider when sharing your work digitally via your own website. It is possible to disable the ‘right-click’ and ‘save as’ function for images by adding specific script to the HTML of your website – you may need to ask your website developer to do this. If you use a WordPress website, there are plugins you can install that will do this for you.

You should also include a copyright notice for all the images you publish on your website with a copyright symbol ©, the name of the copyright owner and the year of first publication, for example © Jennifer Briggs 2016.

Remind people accessing images on your website that the content is subject to copyright and moral rights by stating it clearly in your terms of use. For more information and assistance Copyright Agency has published standard Website Terms of Use that you can use on your own site.

This article does not constitute legal advice, if you need to know how the law applies in a particular situation, please seek advice from a lawyer or legal entity.  

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