9 Ways to Protect Your WordPress Blog’s Images from Theft

9 Ways to Protect Your WordPress Blog’s Images from Theft

When the original U.S. Copyright Act was established in 1790, it was the government’s goal to protect authors’ rights to their work. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s no longer just writers, composers, and artists whose work needs protecting: so too does the work found on websites.

I could probably write whole chapters on this topic of intellectual property, copyright protection, and infringement, but today I want to focus on what you need to do to protect your blog’s images.

A Short Primer on Website Image Copyright

Images are a particularly vulnerable part of your site. They’re easy to copy and, consequently, steal through right-clicking, screenshotting, Google searching, and site scraping. While it would be great to know that no one is going to steal your images, it’s more realistic to hope no one steals them but to expect it may happen anyway.

Before we begin, it’s important to understand a few things about copyright protection as it pertains to your blog’s images.

  • For starters, the creator of the images owns the sole right to copy and use them. If someone else commissioned the creation of those images (typically, an employer), then they own the rights.
  • Secondly, there are some cases where it is legally acceptable for others to use your images. This is known as Fair Use.
  • And finally, you may actually want to encourage others to take and use your images. In this case, you still own the rights to them but are allowing others to license the rights to their use. (There are instructions on that below.)

Now, if you have image content of value on your website, you’ve got to be ready to deal with infringement. Image theft sometimes occurs because people are unaware of copyright law and don’t understand that it’s illegal and unethical to use someone else’s photos without permission. Other times, there are people who intentionally scrape websites with the purpose of stealing someone else’s photos.

Regardless of how or why your work has been infringed, it’s up to you and only you to protect it.

Copyright Protecting Your Website’s Images

Luckily for you, it’s quite easy to equip your site with a number of notices, tools, and watermarks as a barrier against infringement. While these tricks are not 100% foolproof, they will at least help discourage some people from stealing your images.

1. Add a Copyright Notice

Copyright protection is inherent. Once you’ve created your images, the right to copy, use, and sell them is yours. That being said, it’s still important to have a notice in place that establishes your ownership over the content found on the website (this encapsulates all content on the website and not just the images).

To create a copyright notice, you need three elements:

  1. The copyright symbol ©.
  2. The owner’s name (that may be the company, the artist, or someone else).
  3. The year that the work was created.

Then you can use the Footer Putter plugin to add the notice to the footer of your website so automatically it appears on every page.

Easily add a footer to your site that boosts your credibility with both search engines and your visitors.
Easily add a footer to your site that boosts your credibility with both search engines and your visitors.

2. Add a Terms of Use Statement

The Terms of Use page is where you can define a number of things:

  • Your total ownership over the images (and other content) on the website.
  • Your offering of licensing privileges to anyone who wants to use your images.
  • Your rules for licensing, including attribution and pricing.

Rather than write a Terms of Use page on your own, use the Auto Terms of Service plugin to generate the page for you. You can define what you want the Creative Commons license to include as well (if you want to offer licensing privileges).

3. Disable Right-Clicking

There are a variety of ways people can get a copy of your site’s images. Disabling the right-click functionality is a good place to start, and will also help protect all the other content from being copied and used elsewhere.

The WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click plugin is the one you’ll want to use to disable this functionality.

Disable right-clicking on your site with the WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click plugin.
Disable right-clicking on your site with the WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click plugin.

4. Disable Hotlinking

If you haven’t heard of hotlinking before, it’s the process by which someone displays your image on their website by linking to it (and not by grabbing a copy of the file). Because they’re loading the image from your server and not storing it on their own, they’re actually using your bandwidth. So not only is this illegal because of the copyright violation, it’s also extremely unethical since it’s costing you money to host that image for them.

The All In One WP Security & Firewall plugin will help you disable hotlinking on your website.

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5. Add Metadata to Photos

If you plan to showcase your own photographs on your website, ensure that each of your photos is embedded with copyright-protecting metadata, including the date taken and the owner’s name. Here are the different manners in which you can do this:

  • EXIF Metadata: Set up your digital camera beforehand to capture all essential metadata for copyright protection, including the date taken and the owner’s name.
  • IPTC Metadata: Add the metadata in post-production using your design program of choice.
  • Tag Metadata: Add the metadata as a tag to photos and other imagery right from your desktop. On a PC, enter the copyright data when viewing the Properties. On a Mac, enter the data when viewing the Information window.
  • Manual WordPress Insertion: Manually enter your photos’ copyright metadata whenever you upload an image into WordPress.
  • Automated WordPress Insertion: Use the Media Library Assistant plugin for assistance with pulling in IPTC or EXIF metadata as well as with bulk editing.

6. Watermark Images

For images with monetary value, it’s extremely important to do everything you can to protect them from being stolen. One of the best ways to do this is by watermarking them. It also happens to be a great way to increase your brand’s awareness since it’ll clearly have an element of your brand’s identity (a logo, signature, or icon) stamped on it.

By doing this, you’ll ensure that anyone who grabs a copy of your image also has to share proof of your copyright ownership. Just remember that the watermark should be consistent across all images. It should use the same name or symbol, and it should be in the same color, opacity, size, and position—so think about this carefully before committing to something that maybe only work well on one photo, but not on the rest.

There are three ways to add a watermark to your images:

  • Manually: Use design software like Illustrator or Photoshop to add the watermark to your images. If you don’t have design software, you can use a free tool like Canva.
  • In Bulk: There are a number of free watermark services available. Visual Watermark provides a number of watermark templates (if you haven’t created one already) and enables you to apply the watermark to a large batch of images at once.
  • With a Plugin: The Image Watermark plugin helps users upload watermarks, edit them, and then apply to all images in the Media folder.
Add watermarks to your images with the aptly named Image Watermark plugin.
Add watermarks to your images with the aptly named Image Watermark plugin.

7. Prevent Access to Media

The Responsive WordPress Gallery plugin is a great tool for creating image galleries on your site. It also happens to have a password-protecting feature that I love. Whether it be internal users or external hackers that you’re worried about accessing your source photo files, blocking access to the Media folder with a password is a solid way to do it.

8. Register Your Images

One of the things I haven’t mentioned yet is copyright registration. While it is true that copyright is an inherent privilege, putting a copyright notice on your site, watermarking images, and adding blocks wherever possible isn’t always enough to stop image theft.

If you happen to discover that someone has stolen your images, those images need to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office before you can take legal action against an infringer. The process is fairly straightforward and something you can do with a simple online submission. It’ll take a little time and a little money, but it’s worth it in the long run.

9. Monitor and Be Ready to Take Action

It’s important to note that all the tricks above—including the registration of your images—aim to help you demonstrate how serious you take the matter of copyright protection. What these tricks will not do, however, is provide you with someone to help enforce the protection of your images.

It is your sole responsibility to monitor for violations, and you can use online image searches, like the one from Google, to check. If you should find any instances of theft, file a DMCA takedown notice immediately. This will inform infringers of your intent to take legal action against them.

Protecting What’s Yours

The content created for your website is a form of intellectual property – property that belongs to you and needs to be protected.

You’ve gone to great lengths to create the images on your site. Don’t let all that hard work and investment of time and money go to waste. Put barriers in place to discourage people from stealing your images and clearly establish your rights, so you may later recuperate any lost funds due to theft.

What have you done to protect your site's images? Let us know in the comments below.