The Internet is a great visual tool for displaying artwork and photos.  However, because the source code for Web pages is easily accessible, there is no tried and true method to completely secure your copyright-protected work on the Internet, other than not posting them, any more than you can prohibit people from photocopying text in a book.  I've seen a variety of ways that people have used to block stealing of photos and artwork that are posted in Web pages.  One way is to disable the right-click, another is to replace the good image with a bogus image on mouseover.  Both of these ways, at best, slow a visitor down.  Let me explain why each of these do not provide a good level of security for your online content and images.

Disabling right click

I've seen many requests from people for script that disables the right-click on their Web pages.  Very often, someone has seen this on another Web site and thought it was a good idea for securing their own artwork or photos.  However, although a visitor doesn't have access to the right click for the page displayed, they generally do have access to the menu bar, and on the View menu, there is a Source option that allows people to open up the source code in a text editor, such as Notepad.

You may think that the source code isn't going to help them much, but it does.  For example, say the following HTML code is in one of your pages, and this displays a photo that you took and are selling on your Web site.

<img src="awardwinningphoto.jpg">

Viewing the source gives the visitor the name of the image file, and the path to the Web page gives the visitor the rest.  So, say for example the path to the page where the above HTML occurs is http://www.cohowinery.com/html/awardwinningphoto.htm.  All someone needs to do is open up the file http://www.cohowinery.com/html/awardwinningphoto.jpg in the browser, and once they view it in the browser, they can right-click on it and choose Save Picture As.

Replace Image on Mouseover

Another trick that Web designers and developers use to prohibit stealing of artwork and photos is to replace one image with another image when the visitor mouses over it.  This also would seem to be great for securing online images.  After all, if they can't right-click on the image and choose Save Picture As, they can't steal the image, right? However, as with the right-click, the best this does is slow them down.  If someone really wants to steal an image, they can easily view the source and get the filename and path to the image, and do what I described above.

Then how can I secure my images?

Many Web designers and developer would answer that question by saying to not post the images, but if you make your living out of selling your photos or paintings, this may not be an option for you, so there are a few things that you can do.

  1. Post lower quality graphics.  When someone tries to steal an image, they won't get a great quality picture, just a representation of what the image looks like.  If they attempt to enlarge it, the quality will be poor enough to discourage even the most determined. 
  2. Use a digital copyright.  A digital copyright acts as a digital signature, and as with digital signatures, you need to purchase a digital copyright and use a graphics application to add it to your images.  I'm no expert on this, so I won't even attempt to explain how it works or how to do it.  Take a look at resources on line from experts if you're interested in using a digital copyright for your online content and images.  If I understand this correctly, a digital copyright doesn't print but provides a legally binding way for you to recover loses if someone appropriates your intellectual property.
  3. Use a watermark on the image. A watermark is a usually text overlayed on top of an image, perhaps a copyright symbol, your name and the date.  It will certainly discourage people from taking images, but it can also disfigure an image to the point where it may not be distinguishable.  This option is my least favorite of the three.  Why?  If I want to print out a picture to see if it goes with my favorite bedspread or the couch in the den, the watermark disfigures the image to the point where printing it will not give me a good idea of whether the picture will work for me or not, making me far less likely to buy the finished product because I don't know if it's exactly right for what I want.

While the information age does bring new problems and opportunities for people to cause harm, as you decide what is best for displaying your artwork, photos, and other online content, keep in mind that most who come to your site are just there to browse and perhaps shop and buy. Consider how you want people to use your site and provide needed security without inhibiting how visitors will use your site.