Five Ways to Help Protect Your Images Online
Making your images resistant to unauthorized use is a balancing act, because some of the steps you take to protect your images can also make your images less appealing to potential customers. If you manage the balance properly, the potential benefits of sharing your images online will outweigh the risk of having them pirated. The following strategies can help lower the risk of unauthorized use:
1. Limit the pixel dimensions of the image. Reducing the number of pixels in images you upload limits how much they can be altered, printed, or scaled up before image quality visibly degrades. But you also can’t make an image so small that it isn’t appealing. While many photographers used to limit online images to 500–800 pixels on the long side a few years ago, today’s larger screens and higher pixel densities are causing some photographers to upload images at 1000 or more pixels on a side so that the images can still be effective for promotion. Some photo-sharing sites let you archive full-resolution images on their servers while limiting the size that the public can see and therefore download.
2. Embed copyright and contact information into the image file. Most image-organizing software lets you embed contact and copyright information in an image file. Some social media sites read metadata and post it next to the photo. While embedded metadata won’t prevent downloading, it’s another way to help identify an image as yours if you find an unauthorized copy on the Web. Just be aware that metadata can be removed, and some websites (including Facebook) strip out metadata from uploaded images.
Figure 1: Facebook automatically copies the Title, Description, and Copyright metadata fields from an imported image into the Facebook caption field, but strips the metadata from the file itself.
Figure 2: Google Plus displays the description (top) and EXIF information (bottom) next to an image, but not other types of metadata.
3. Add a watermark. You can use image-editing software to add a copyright notice or studio logo on top of images you share online. A watermark can serve two purposes: Displaying notice of copyright can help deter image pirates, and if someone becomes interested in licensing your photo or hiring you, a watermark on the photo can help that person contact you. Because it’s so easy to remove watermarks, some photographers are tempted to make complex watermarks that cover much of the image; however, be aware that photo editors and other potential clients are turned off by large, distracting watermarks. Keep watermarks subtle but readable.
Figure 3: A semi-transparent watermark in the bottom left corner of an image.
4. Register your images with the U.S. Copyright Office. Your copyright is established as soon as you take a photo. However, the potential damages that you can recover in court from an infringer are higher if the image is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. You can register your work online at http://copyright.gov/eco. The steps to do this are outside the scope of this article, but the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) has a tutorial and additional advice at http://asmp.org/tutorials/online-registration-eco.html. Please note that this article does not contain legal advice, and legal references I make apply in the United States, so always check with a lawyer familiar with the laws in your region.
Figure 4: The Electronic Copyright Office web page.
5. Consider allowing image downloads. Yes, you read that right. Disabling image downloads is a popular feature of some photo sharing sites, but it can also work against you. Disabling downloads doesn’t stop people who want to copy your image from a website because they can simply use their OS’s screen capture feature. And here’s the thing: If you let someone download your image, your copyright metadata is in their copy of the file. If you make them take a screen shot, their copy has none of your metadata. In one case, the reason someone emailed me a screen shot of a download-disabled image of mine was because they wanted to legitimately license it….and I had made the process harder for them by preventing the download. Of course, you want to make sure the public can download only low-resolution copies.
Setting Up Images for Social Media in Photoshop and Bridge
You can easily limit pixel dimensions, embed copyright metadata, and add watermarks using Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Adobe Bridge CS6, or with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4. Let’s walk through how to do that.
Add Copyright Metadata Using Bridge CS6 and Photoshop CS6
In Photoshop, you can edit image metadata by choosing File > File Info and entering information into the tabbed panels. But this applies only to the active image, so it isn’t an efficient way to add metadata to many images. It’s a much better use of your time to enter metadata in Adobe Bridge CS6 instead, because you can enter metadata for many selected images at once. You don’t even have to open any files.
1. Start Adobe Bridge. The ability to edit metadata isn’t new to Bridge CS6, so you can use earlier versions too.
2. Select one or more images and choose Window > Metadata Panel.
3. In the IPTC Core section of the Metadata Panel, enter copyright and contact information. You may want to fill out the following fields at a minimum: Creator: Email(s), Creator: Website(s), Copyright Notice, Copyright Status, and Copyright Terms.
Figure 5: Enter copyright and contact information into the Metadata panel in Bridge.
4. When you’re done, press Enter (not Return, which will often create a new line) or click the Apply check mark at the bottom right corner of the Metadata panel.
To save even more time, take advantage of metadata templates so that you don’t have to type the same set of metadata over and over again. Choose Create Metadata Template from the Metadata Panel menu, select the check boxes to the left of fields you want to apply with the template, and fill in the checked fields. When you’re done click OK. Now you can apply that template to selected images by choosing it from the Metadata panel menu, and in one step you’re done.
Figure 6: To make a new template of frequently entered metadata, choose the Create Metadata Template command.
Figure 7: Remember to select the check boxes for the metadata fields you want to save in the template.
Add a Watermark using Photoshop CS6
While there are many ways to add watermarks to images in Photoshop, Russell Brown’s Adobe Watermark panel might be the most efficient. It’s a free download from Russell Brown’s website at http://russellbrown.com/scripts.html where you’ll also find a tutorial video that walks you through installing and using the panel. The panel is a Photoshop extension so you install it using the Adobe Extension Manager, and then display it by choosing Window > Extensions > Adobe Watermark. Russell Brown’s video describes the panel’s options in detail, so let’s focus on the main points to be aware of.
1. In the Watermark Source File pane you choose whether you want to type watermark text or use a graphic file such as your logo. If you use a graphic, make sure it has a transparent background otherwise it will appear with an opaque background over your photo. Note that JPEG does not allow transparency, so if you want to preserve a transparent background save the graphic as a PNG, TIFF, PSD (Adobe Photoshop) or AI (Adobe Illustrator) file.
Figure 8: Watermark Source File pane.
2. In the Select Images to Process pane you choose the files you want to watermark (open files or from a folder) and where to send the watermarked versions (a folder or to email).
Figure 9: Select Images to Process pane.
3. In the Select Watermark Position and Style pane you customize where the watermark appears on each photo, along with options for changing the size and opacity of the watermark.
Figure 10: Select Watermark Position and Style pane.
4. In the Select JPEG Export Settings pane you customize the image itself. The Smart Sharpen option uses the current settings in the Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen dialog box; if you want to customize the settings for the next export, turn on the Sharpen Options option. Select Standard JPEG Image for non-online uses where you need to specify pixels per inch. Select Save as JPEG for the Web for online use; this disables the px/in option and reduces the file size by stripping all metadata except for copyright information.
Figure 11: Select JPEG Export Settings pane.