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 30 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.

Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?


  1. Marla says:

    I have downloaded pictures from friends, after being given permission of course, and my father-in-law has downloaded my pictures and they are high enough quality to print at Costco. This is downloading pictures from Facebook to the computer. Is there a setting you need to change to make the pictures a lower quality when you upload them?

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Marla,

      Not that I know of. However, you can reduce the size of your image before uploading which will do the same thing.


  2. Neena says:

    Is there anyway to post a photo to Facebook for people to view only, but make it impossible for them to save or copy? Like view only feature? I have learned there is someone (a friend) who takes my photos and make jigsaw puzzles out of them. I don't think she is selling or anything because she wouldn't tell me she was doing it if that were the case. But that got me wondering....

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Neena,

      No, it's not possible. If an image can be viewed online, people who really want to use your image will be able to download and use it.

      In my opinion, the best way is to upload a low resolution copy of your image which will make it hard to use for anything other than online. Or don't upload your images at all.

      Watermarks usually don't work because they can easily be cropped out or removed.


  3. Mary Sward says:

    Once the dastardly deed has been done, the theft of pictures from Facebook then what can be done, if anything?

    • David Peterson says:

      You can employ a lawyer and sue them. However, usually it will cost you more than the photos are worth.


  4. Help, what do I do? says:

    Someone stole, and declared as their own, a digital art peice that I have put on deviantart, and they put it on Twitter. Unfortunately because this is accross two different websites then I don't know what to do or how to fix it. I asked the person to give the deviantart account credit for the artwork, but they said it was their own, which it obviously wasn't. Fortunately, Deviantart has some kind of copyright system for the art people submit, but I don't know how it works over different platforms, and they said they can't do anything for other websites.

    My question is, does Twitter have something that can help get the image taken down or even their entire page (because I am not the only person that this twitter page has stolen from)? Or am I out of luck, hoping that the user takes it down themself for whatever reason.

  5. Bob Roman says:

    If I take a good picture of the computer screen showing a nice image (but clearly showing the monitor) and publish that on my blog post will it be considered copyright infringement?

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Bob,

      Yes, you will be infringing copyright. You'll need to pay to use the copyrighted image regardless of how it's used. Alternatively, use one of your own images to display on the screen, or find a copyright-free image.


  6. 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.


  7. 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.


      • Linda Clark says:

        Thank you for the great information. I was considering to copyright my photos. Not necessarily to sell them just wanted to protect them as mine. Social media in my opinion "a show an tell", as you state; if you don't want it stolen don't upload to the internet. Hackers know how to steal. Right to privacy controlled by not using.

  8. 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.


  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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