Unfortunately this is a difficult topic without a solution. Anyone can copy any image from any site if they know how. Without really disfiguring your images quite badly, there is no way to prevent them. Personally, if I want a copy of an image on the web, I have many ways of copying it, and I’m certainly not alone in my skills.
Most watermarks only cover a small part of the picture. People can still see the image perfectly and copy it if they want. A little photoshopping can easily remove most traces of a watermark – often it is only a line of text along the top or bottom. A larger watermark that disfigures the images looks unprofessional and amateur. People used to do that in the late 1990s but I don’t see it much anymore. It makes your images look bad to everyone, not just to thieves. And people can still copy the idea.
You can add a “right-click disabled” to your images, but thieves can easily do a screenshot then cut the image out. They would then have the exact same image as they would if they copied it in the first place. There is no way to disable a screenshot.
On the plus side, there isn’t much anyone can do with a copied image. The resolution of a web image is only 72 pixels an inch, while print resolution is 300 pixels an inch. This means that printed pictures are four times more detailed than web images (they have four times the resolution). Images from the web cannot be used for reproductions such as prints or postcards (they will be useless and fuzzy), unless the image size on the web is extremely large.
To give you an example, a 600-pixel wide image produces an 8 inch print, but the lower resolution of only 72 pixels/inch will make the image unsuitable for most printing purposes. And if someone converts it to 300 pixels per inch, the resulting image would be only about 2 inches big.
However people with blogs are not usually in the habit of re-sizing their images before they upload them. I see a lot of WordPress sites wih direct click-throughs from small images to large, full screen beauties that could easily be converted to 300 pixels per inch. These are prime targets for image stealing.
If you’re a blogger and you’re in the habit of uploading photos without re-sizing them, be aware that you’re making them available for people to copy and re-use in printed materials. If you don’t want this to happen, you need to pre-size any pictures you put online to a much smaller size (for example, 600 pixels wide). Read more about sizing images for the web. This is without question the most effective thing you can do to protect your images.
There are a couple of ways you can find out if someone has already copied one of your pictures. Use the Google tool as described on http://www.kitsmedia.ca/galleries/find-out-if-your-image-has-been-copied/
Or try linking to www.tineye.com and follow the directions. I personally haven’t found either of these tools work very well for slightly modified images, but if someone has copied your image intact, it will show duplicates.
If you find that your image has been copied, you should first attempt to contact the site owner. You can also contact the host of the site and let them know about the copyright infringement. If you’re an artist represented by a gallery, have the gallery owner contact the thief.
It definitely helps to have a digital copyright (this is information about the image that is “hidden” in the code) in the case of disputes. However, in most cases direct contact by email or phone with the site owner or website developer will suffice to have the copied image removed.
Website developers usually add a link to their own company in either the footer or the source code. Since they are equally liable if the site has used a copyrighted image without permission, they may be more amenable to removing it or will bring it to the attention of the site owner.
Otherwise you must be prepared to invest a great deal of time, money and energy following through. And if it’s the ”idea” you don’t want anyone to copy, it’s best not to show your work anywhere at any time, because there will always be someone who will copy your style, composition, colours, brushwork, themes or ideas.
It is very disheartening when this happens. When I was a painter, I frequently saw copies of my work. Once I walked into Malaspina College and saw a large, perfect duplicate of one of my paintings hanging in a graduate show. It had been used on a Bau-Xi exhibit invitation and I later saw it copied on two other occasions. A couple of years ago I put some small, decorative canvasses for sale on Etsy. Within only 48 hours, exact duplicates of my paintings were reproduced verbatim by another artist. The only recourse offered by Etsy was to contact a lawyer.
For many, many years I have had the same thing happen to my writing, especially my reviews of gallery shows. My art writing is frequently copied intact and used by artists on their websites as their own statements. My reviews for Preview Magazine have even been returned to me as “press releases” from galleries for their subsequent shows. Artists and galleries are often quite affronted when I call them on it.
Either there are a lot of otherwise intelligent people who really believe that images and writing found on the Web is up for grabs, or they just don’t care.