How to protect your photos from theft on Facebook and Twitter :: Digital Photo Secrets
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How to protect your photos from theft on Facebook and Twitter

by David Peterson 19 comments

Whenever sharing is involved, there is a always a chance that someone will break the ties that bind and violate your trust. If you’re worried about your photos getting stolen from your Facebook or Twitter accounts, worry no more. Here is one sure-fire technique that will stop any and all digital photography theft.

Ask yourself this. Do you really need to protect your photos from theft?

It all depends on a lot of factors. First of all, Facebook and Twitter already have some pretty strict download guidelines. Nobody can legally go into your photos and download them to their hard drive. The site’s policy doesn’t allow it. Plus, to make things worse for any potential digital art thief, Facebook and Twitter both dramatically reduce the quality of the images you upload. Your untrustworthy friend will never be able to download anything useful in a truly meaningful sense.

And that's good enough for most of us. It's completely fine if you are sharing your photos with your friends.

But what about if you want to sell your photos? You want your clients to see the photos, but not use them without paying for them.

As Facebook and Twitter only show reduced sized versions of your images, any would-be criminal won't be able to use those versions. The quality will be so diminished that it will be impossible to sell the image. Printing is certainly out of the question. Maybe your criminal can print a photo big enough to put up on her refrigerator, but there’s no way she’ll be able to print something big enough to show at a gallery. Her hands are tied. In order to do anything meaningful with your image, a criminal needs to have the full quality file.

How to prevent anyone from using your images

The first way is to upload a smaller copy of the file than your original. That way no one will have access to the full image but you. Facebook and Twitter mostly do this automatically (to save their server space). People might be able to steal your photos, but they aren’t going to get the whole thing. They’ll get a little souvenir keychain version, and that’s hardly worth the effort.

Even so, perhaps you just want to be 100% certain that nobody will take your images. Maybe you’ve got a trade secret you want to keep secret. Thankfully, there is a very easy way to protect your images from all manner of online thievery. All you need is some basic photo editing software like Photoshop Elements.

Just open up your image, and go to the text tool. Then, click on the bottom righthand corner of your image and write your name. That’s all you need to do to prevent most criminals from using your image. It often helps to change the color of the text to white or something that doesn’t blend in with the image. You can get fancy too, writing “Copyright June 2011,” if you prefer, but that doesn’t really have an effect on the legal side of things. Your images, according to international law, are copyrighted the second you snap them with your camera. Pretty cool, eh?

Need more security?

You can also do what sites like iStockPhoto and GettyImages do. They place a big white “X” over every photo so it’s visible to you, the user, but useless to anyone who wants to do anything with it. As I said earlier, the fact that your images are smaller on social networking sites already makes them useless, but when coupled with a tactic like this, they’re even more useless. Nobody will want to do anything with them.

Just select the line tool, pick a line color, and then draw a light “X” over your image. Make sure you use a small brush width, so it doesn’t ruin the look of your image.

The white line is annoying enough to prevent theft but not so annoying that it ruins the visual appeal of the image. It's still possible for a determined criminal to use correction software to remove the lines, but it's usually not worth it and the results aren't spectacular either. They definitely wouldn't be able to sell the resulting image.

The Only Bulletproof Method

The only really sure-fire way to protect your photography from anyone, is never to upload it to the Internet. But then you don't get to share your masterpieces, or show your work to new clients.

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  1. Mimi Perez Rodriguez Concepcion says:

    How can i find out who is stilling my pic's from Facebook please? ???

    • David Peterson says:

      Unfortunately, it's not possible. To make sure your images aren't stolen from Facebook, the only way is to not upload them in the first place.


  2. Jill Keuning says:

    I used to have a program that came with my old computer which prevented anyone from taking my work,, but I can't remember the name of it. People would attempt to 'right click and save' but a pop up would appear stating they could not save a copy as it was copyrighted.

    can anyone remember the name of the program? It was more than 10 years ago, before my old PC fried...

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Jill,

      These programs actually DON'T protect your image from anyone other than a casual thief. In short: if your computer screen can show it, a thief can steal it if they want your image. The only way to be *really* sure your image won't be stolen is to not upload it to the Internet.


  3. Eileen MacLeod says:

    A very informative article , thanks but am surprised you never mentioned Digimarc for safeguarding your work . This method not only imprints your copyright but also tracks where it is used without your consent and informs you ??

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Eileen,

      While it's good to know if your images are used elseware, in my experience it's not easy to get money for your photos once they have been (ab)used in this way. Publishers who are willing to steal your photo in the first place are not usually going to pay you when you complain.


  4. Tyrin Price says:

    You claim, "Nobody can legally go into your photos and download them to their hard drive" and say that Facebook policies specifically prohibit it. I am skeptical since there is a "download" option available for every image on facebook. Also, your computer *must* download the image to your hard drive in order to display it in your web browser. So your claim is false unless you can provide a source that gives your claim some kind of credibility.

    • Duh says:

      All online property whether photos, music, literature, or art (and so on) is LEGALLY protected under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act from the "fair use" arguement, since by default, all works are automatically licensed under "ALL RIGHTS RESERVED". Google "all rights reserved" and it should tell you about how it became obsolete with it becoming an automatic process once a work is created.

      Fair use only applies to online creative/or otherwise works that use CREATIVE COMMONS. Otherwise downloading ANY material without the owner's written permission and attribution (whichever creative commons they use) is technically copyright theft. Read DMCA TAKEDOWN, AND DMCA COPYRIGHT ACT.

      It is technically illegal to do so, however most people download items regardless, you only get into real trouble if you claim it as your own or repost the item on the internet, then rightful owners can send a DMCA TAKEDOWN accordingly.

  5. Chuck says:

    Don't bank on the idea reduced resolution images are useless. I've read enough examples to see some copyright infringes simply do not care about quality for many projects.

  6. art dog says:

    This article does not solve the problem, anyone with Photoshop can remove a watermark. I have had my art stolen many times in the past prior to Facebook and social media. Now it's just easier.

    • Yup says:

      Again you can fix this by using an overlay water mark that is small but centered in the MIDDLE and reaches both ends of the work. It is VERY time consuming to remove watermarks that use overlay and span the center of the image, don't forget to include the copyrights (c) your name @

      I use this as a watermark on all my photograph works and center it in the middle instead of the edges (or near the middle of the work) where it is incredibly hard/time consuming to photoshop the text out. If your work gets stolen even with these steps search for DMCA TAKEDOWN of the offending website or copyrights/intellectual property.

    • Jude says:

      Thanks bro!

  7. Tom H says:

    Thanks for this article, I have good friend who is a watercolor artist who wants better exposure for his work but fears it being lifted and printed! This gives us some great insights..

  8. Lesa says:

    Thank you for the text stamp idea. Now I can advertise my page without having to worry who is stealing ideas off my page and using them as their own.

  9. Kathy Wesserling says:

    Has anyone tried to create and use a "stamp" or "tube" to quickly add one's name to each photo? Or to do a group process action or script? I upload nearly all my competition images on Facebook and on Flickr; to add my name by typing it for every single image is so time-consuming (so is resizing them for the various sites.)

    • Robert MacPherson says:

      I downloaded a free watermarking tool - UMark 5 to batch mark all my photos

  10. Rick says:

    The way I protect photos on my web page is to use Powerpoint. I create the watermark (name, graphic...???) on a blank slide. Insert a picture and then more it to the background. Do "ctrl-A" and then "Group"; which embeds the watermark into the picture. Then I save it as a new picture in a "watermark complete" folder. Now that picture is ready to upload to the internet. You can save time and reuse the watermark again and again by now "ungroup"ing and deleting just the picture. The watermark should remain n the former blank slide. Now repeat the process. This is a very simplified version. I googled how to embed watermarks to protect photos and discovered this method. I'm hoping my graphic is robust enough to withstand any tampering.
    Good Luck and Happy Thanksgiving!! Rick

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