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Leave That Mouse Alone

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Ben Henick

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User since: 24 Jan 2000

Articles written: 9

I was asked by aardvark to follow up here on a message to another list.

In a nutshell: disabling interface features is generally a Bad Thing.

Specifically: disabling right-clicks to protect your site content is a) pointless, b) irritating, and c) can be supplanted by other entirely palatable alternatives.

While I grant that - despite the DMCA* and general improvements in the values of the Web community as a whole - content protection is vital and a pain in the butt besides, disabling user functionality is not a good place to start.

There's one other thing in this introduction: the messages that precipitated this submission were intended for newbies, and frankly I doubt that any Web author with more than a few years' experience would fail to see the wisdom of these remarks.

Mousetraps are pointless.

Disabling the right mouse button will not deter any but the laziest of content rippers. There are too many workarounds that a content-ripper can use, such as:

  1. Doing a screen capture. Alt-PrtScrn on Windows, Apple-F3 on a Mac (if I remember correctly). On the Mac, you even get cute clicking-camera SFX. There are differences in implementation, but the end result is the same on both systems. Though I've not heard from the open-source camp, I can only assume that this functionality exists in Linux as well.
  2. Disabling JavaScript. Do I have to explain this?
  3. Buying a Macintosh, any Macintosh. The right-button implode depends on a multiple-button paradigm, which of course does not apply to the Mac.
  4. Being like Luke, and reading the source. .gif and .jpeg don't support JavaScript, eh? It is true that an Apache guru could probably make this impossible, but are you an Apache guru?
  5. Duplicating the concept with different content. If it worked for Microsoft, it'll work for Joe Clueless.

Mousetraps annoy people...

...Especially the experienced users who are most likely to help you put money in your pocket.

One of the axioms of computer use is that the more experienced you are, the less you care to use the keyboard. There are shortcuts for everything, and on the typical Web client the right mouse button provides one of the most important shortcuts. Disable it, and you are turning away users who might otherwise think your site is really cool.

Let me paint for you a scenario: you are a newbie/starving-artist, and you're up for a hot Web gig. The hiring manager, who happens to be a battle-seasoned admin and reads security advisories instead of box scores with his Wheaties, goes to your online portfolio only to discover that you've disabled right clicks (by way of deterring users from stealing your hot <snicker> graphics).

What follows goes something like this:

"This guy doesn't know what the hell he's doing."
<Resume gets thrown in the wastebasket>

The next day, you receive a polite (and inaccurate) message stating that "while Web Widgets Inc. does not feel that you would be an appropriate addition to our team at present, your resume will be put into our human resources database and retrieved for consideration in the event that other openings occur."

Some database! It sure sucks to be you.

There are alternatives to setting mousetraps.

  1. Lay out your graphics in such a way that they'll be useless when used outside of your site. The Image menu in Photoshop provides a profusion of tools with which to accomplish such tasks. Level and color adjustments are cool.
  2. Caption images, or add other features to them that can't be cropped out without annihilating the image. Duh.
  3. Any professional-quality graphics program offers support for adding clear, retrievable text to image headers. Use this feature as a way of proving authorship.
  4. Use DHTML to place a block of content over the image when someone places their mouse over it. When someone attempts to do a grab, they will get a transparent .gif, or no image at all (if you decide to use text or just an empty "layer" with its height and width properties set explicitly. Use of the document.images array can accomplish similar results in Navigator 3.
  5. If the images themselves deserve a chunk of the site architecture, take advantage of that fact. Put a disclaimer on the index of the section referring to the provisions of the DMCA*.
  6. Register your site with the United States Copyright Office. Expensive to do and even more expensive to enforce, but it does work.
  7. If it comes to pass that someone is ripping your content, send a polite message to their presence provider stating the nature of the problem, and providing means by which they can independently ascertain the authorship of your content. If you want to be really direct, cc: a copy to your attorney.

There is one caveat to the last two suggestions: content-ripping may be heretically wrong, but it's not illegal unless you can prove to a judge that you are losing income as a result of the offending activity. There is this little thing called "fair use" that works against you in this case...

That same caveat is also the main reason why I don't raise in protest at the thought of work-for-hire. I'll write it - let somebody with lots of money protect their damned ownership of the stuff.

That, I think, covers it for now. "Just Say No." For an eventual encore, I'll probably discuss the best techniques for working with Now, however, it's 2:30am and I'm tired.

As always, feel free to render your opinion...

* The Digital Millenium Copyright Act, XVII USC Ch. 1-5 contain the relevant changes. The March-April 1999 issue of Communication Arts contains an excellent discussion of these issues.

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