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How to protect your photos from theft on Facebook and Twitter

Filed in Tips by 9 Comments
How to protect your photos from theft on Facebook and Twitter

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.

Got any questions about online security and your photography? Send me an email or leave a comment below. I am more than happy to help you out.

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About the Author ()

David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets (this site, and the course) and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.

Comments (9)

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  1. 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.

  2. 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..

  3. 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.

  4. 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.)

  5. 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

  6. scott hart says:

    Pics on FB show up other places where never posted or sent. Download policies? Who reads or pays attention. You’ve got to be kidding.

  7. Dear David Peterson, i have read your article and realize that it is important to know these things and many do not know or realize it. That is why i like to put your article on my site and ask by now if you agree with that.
    Friendly regards,
    Yours sincerely,
    Dick Smorenburg

  8. Toni Aull says:

    This is so good that I feel so secure in you just sharing it….thank you very much

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