Protecting Your Photos Online

The easiest way to share the photos we take is to post them on the internet, but how safe are your pictures when put online?

Copyright of your images (literally having the right to copy them) belongs to you, the photographer, unless you are employed by, or contracted to, someone else.

This means that no one else has the right to use or copy your work.

To qualify for copyright, the piece must be original and exist in some form. In the case of a digital photograph, that would be your original digital file.

With photos, copyright extends to the image itself, not the idea, although special lighting and positioning could possibly be copyrighted as well.

Canada’s Copyright Act confers copyright to the creator (and their estate) for remainder of the calendar year in which the photographers dies and thereafter for a period of 50 years.

For corporations, if the author of the photo is the major shareholder, then the same rule applies. If not, then it is for the remainder of the calendar year the image was made plus 50 years.

More information on copyright is available through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

Laws in other countries will vary.

There are both unscrupulous and unaware people out there who will use copyrighted material without asking or paying for the right.

The easiest way for these folks to get your photos is by finding them and taking them from somewhere you have posted them online.

You can shield your images to a certain extent, but be aware that as long as they are online, there is always a way to copy them.

While full protection is impossible, there are things you can do to make photos more difficult to copy, to ensure the viewer knows they are copyrighted, or to make the image they pilfer less than valuable.

Use a “no right-click” script to discourage your visitors from downloading your precious image, although there are ways to get around this.

Another method involves using tables with the image you want seen being placed as the background of a cell and another, transparent image placed on top of it. The idea being if right-click is used it will be the transparent image that gets downloaded.

Here again, there are means to overcome this form of security.

Use a visible watermark on your photos with a copyright notice directly on the image.

While these watermarks can be removed with some difficulty, they serve as notice of copyright ,so there can never be an argument that the person using the image without permission was not aware.

If you don’t have a program that will attach a watermark, you can find a free online service at

Digital watermarks, or embedding information within the digital file, can also be used although there may be a fee involved ( is one possibility).

Some folks believe they can protect their images by embedding them in a Flash movie or object. A simple screen capture can be made and the image copied from that.

Another way to protect your creation is to ensure that any file you put online is of low resolution and so highly compressed that if it does get downloaded it is unusable for making prints.

Computer monitors will show your image well at 72 dpi. However, to achieve a reasonable print over 4 x 6 inches, a minimum resolution of 200 dpi is needed, with 300 being optimum.

I suggest ensuring your online photos are no more than 640 x 480 pixels in size and that the jpeg is compressed as much as possible without damaging the appearance in the online version.

This way, pixels appear large and blotchy when a print is attempted, so it becomes unusable.

If you really believe the photo is valuable enough that you don’t want anyone, anywhere, to appropriate it, the best bet is never to put in online.

Photo sharing websites such as Facebook, Flickr and Picasa have settings that are designed to help protect your work, but remember that even though these defences are helpful, your art could still be taken.

Do continue to share your photos; after all, that’s why we make them. However, take the time to protect your work.

Email questions to [email protected] or post them after the column at

Happy shooting and remember to leave the environment as you found it.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top