Copyright law exists to protect the creators of a original work, whether than be an article, a photo or a drawing. As soon as you create it you have copyright to it, which stays in place 70 years after the author’s death; at that point it belongs to the public domain. Unless you grant license for someone else to use your image, it is considered a copyright violation if they use without your permission.
Image theft is an important issue on the web, especially to people who make their living creating visual art. Just this week there was a furor over the site http://lxixixl.com/ which was copying and hosting entire collections of images from people’s websites. Complaints shut it down but there are others that are doing the same thing.
Theft of content and image happens every day on the web, so what can you do?
- Inform: Show that it is your original work by placing a copyright notice on your website. For example “Copyright 2011 Pablo Picasso”
- Make it less desirable: Many artists will only put low resolution copies of their images online. So if they are stolen they are not of full quality.
- Hide them from Google and Bing: Keep all your images in one directory and tell Google and Bing not to index that directory by placing a directive in the robots.txt file. Note that this action is useless if Google has already indexed your images.
- Watermark them: Perhaps the most effective solution, this alters the image so that it is “marked” in an identifying way. It’s the same idea as branding cattle back in the cattle rustling days. There are also WordPress plugins that watermark the image “on the fly”.
Ultimately it is up to you how much effort you want to put into preventing image theft and violation of your copyright, but don’t just ignore the issue, decide on an approach and take action.
It really is useful to know the options and to pick a strategy, for those of us in the creative fields. I believe in sharing my images because I want people to see my design work, however I certainly relate to the frustration of having your work lifted without reference. I like the watermark idea.
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Watermarking has been around for a while. My partner is exploring using a feature in Picasa to watermark images, and certainly the WordPress plugins to watermark on the fly look interesting.
Interesting since this just came up as in issue on a site I have been working on … Thank you, Kathy! You always have great info and it is easy to understand.