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Thwarting Image Theft Fact Or Fiction

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Jeff Howden

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User since: 14 Dec 1998

Articles written: 21

Lots of people are going to want to pipe in with their opinions on this one, but in the end it'll all basically boil down to one succinct thought that goes something like this:

"If you don't want people copying your images off your site, don't put them online to begin with."

Unfortunately that's the only sure way to make sure they can't be copied.

Oh sure, you'll have people suggest all sorts of crazy ideas to protect images. In the end these ideas just make it more difficult for your innocent users to view your images, while at the same time making those that would steal them just a little more curious about all the loopholes — to the point of actually taking them just to see if they can. You'll get suggestions like:

  • "Cut the image up into a bunch of little pieces and then reassemble the whole thing in a table."
  • "Just add this no-right-click script to your page." I'll personally put a hit out on anyone that suggests that.
  • "Make the image a rollover so when they right-click they'll trigger the image to swap to something you don't mind them stealing."
  • "What about password protecting the image directory?" Never mind that the browser isn't going to know the password so it won't be able to load the images onto the page to begin with.
  • "Position a layer over the image so they can't right click on it."
  • "There's this nifty plug-in from Clever Content that makes it impossible to take the images. It even dissables the 'print screen' button." Yeah right, and you're system stability goes down the crapper, too. Not to mention most people aren't going to install the damn thing to begin with. In most cases the point of a website is to include the largest number of people with as few obstacles as possible. I'd say this plug-in goes against that full-steam.
  • And on and on and on and on...

However, these suggestions will either not work at all, will criminalize innocent users (the no-right-click script — ie, taking away functionality for the sake of the minority), will only work if javascript is enabled, will only work in v4 browsers, or only make it more work for you to do but no less work to take the images.

This all takes me back to that concise comment quoted above.

There are, however, some things to consider when putting images online that can reduce their attraction for thievery.

  • Images for the web are not suitable for printing due to a much lower dpi.
  • You can place a visible watermark on your image that would be difficult for most users to remove.
  • Allow the user to view thumbnails, but require registration for the full-blown size.
  • And more...

Just my 2¢,


Jeff Howden (.jeff) is a web developer working for Vos & Howden, LLC in Portland, Oregon where he's partnered with long-time colleague, Anthony Vos. His skills include ColdFusion, JavaScript, CSS, XML, relational databases, and much, much more. His biggest professional accomplishments include, but are not limited to:

  • building a ColdFusion-based e-commerce solution for Mt. Bachelor that transacted over $1.62 million dollars in September 2001 with 0 (yes, that's zero) ColdFusion errors and then an almost completely rebuilt version transacted $2.86 million dollars in September 2002.
  • being asked to be a Technical Editor for the ColdFusion MX book, Inside ColdFusion MX from New Rider's Publishing company.
  • being asked by BrainBench to perform quality control on their JavaScript 1.5 certification test after receiving the highest beta test score out of 200 testees.
  • managing the server that hosts and withstanding a slashdotting that brought over 1,000,000 hits to the site, over 10 gigs of data transfer, and an average in excess of 2300 unique visitor sessions per hour, all within a 24-hour period and the server never hiccuping once.

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