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How To Copy Protect Photos On Web Pages

Photo theft is not only practiced by many people but there are also plenty of services that advocate plagiarism and encourage it by providing the means to do so. Over the years, web page content has become more accessible and the search engines have provided services for special searches to locate and download your media. On top of this, there are hundreds of software developers that create programs to seek and download your media and evade any protective measures possible. These unauthorized users of your intellectual property try to justify themselves with rights to free information statements but in reality, they are most protective of anything that they have themselves even if they just stole or “borrowed” it..

Photo protection

The first effective form of photo protection that was introduced for use on the Internet that actually worked beyond theory was photo encryption. It was developed by ArtistScope in 1998. Photo encryption has many advantages but is not a perfectly safe solution since it needs to include some other techniques to protect the photo from other methods of copying. Here are some of the techniques that cunning people may use to copy your photos as well as their pros and cons:

Overlaying a clear GIF

Overlying a clear photo over the main photo seems like a clever idea and this can actually work unless someone realizes that there is an overlaid photo. The technique that is employed here is to place a sacrificial photo in a layer that is superimposed over the photo that you are trying to protect. The overlaid photo, being a transparent gif, is invisible on the page and the visitor who tries to save the photo by right mouse-click will only be able to steal the gif. This seems effective but only until the person realizes that the photo that he wants is behind a layer. To get around this copy protection technique, one only has to save the whole page with the photos included, take a screenshot or disable JavaScript.

Believe it or not, ArtistScope was the first to develop this technique of protecting a photo using a transparent gif layer. It was quickly passed over as a failure because at the time, only the latest web browsers could support layers. In all other web browsers, the effect was similar to disabling JavaScript, with all the content of the intended layers displayed at the bottom of the page, leaving the valued photos unprotected.

Watermark photos to protect originality

Some photographers use watermarking to label photographs that they distribute to agencies. Some naive photographers actually believe that this form of watermarking provides copy protection for a photo when in fact; it is merely a means of attaching a business card to a photo as a tag. The watermark tag is invisible to the eye and can only be seen when the file is opened in a photo viewer that supports such watermarking techniques. The watermark tag is ineffective in the prevention of copying or saving from a web page and the photo thief only has to open the file in any photo editor and save it again to shed the watermark tag completely.

Another form of watermarking is by overlaying text or another photo onto the photo that is to be protected and then merging them. There are software programs that are specially designed to do this and most photo editors can also watermark your photos, especially if they support layers. The technique here is to have the original photo open in the editor and then either type in some text over the photo or to create a new layer for the text or maybe even use a ready-made transparent logo. When the photo is saved, the layers are then merged into one to furnish the original photo with an overlaid watermark. This type of watermarking is a deterrent for people wanting to use your photo because it has been marred and cannot be used in other projects. If it is your logo in the middle of the photo, they will definitely not want to use it.

Using degraded photos ( over compressed photos)

It is funny how some people recommend the use of degraded photos. It is not effective protecting the originals because they are not accessible and it is certainly not going to impress your visitors or enhance sales if you are using the photo to represent your product. So what is a degraded photo? Photo degradation results to a loss of picture quality because of photo or file compression. To compress a photo, you simply open it in any popular photo editor and indicate your desired quality setting. Compressing to 60% or less will yield a poor quality photo. On the other hand, original photos (taken from scans of photos or digital cameras) can easily be compressed to 80% without any noticeable loss of quality. A degraded photo will be one that has been compressed to 60% or less and will obviously be pixelated.

Protect photos by splicing

The splicing of photos can limit the photo grabbers to an extent but is really of little importance. While a spliced photo may slow down mouse saves of a photo, it does nothing to prevent anyone from taking a screenshot or saving the whole page. Here, the technique of "splicing a photo" is cutting it up into segments. To display a segmented photo, they need to be re-aligned in a web page and arranged in a form of a table that one can actually take a screenshot of, since saving the table keeps the picture intact. Photo splicing is not an effective copy protection measure at all because the visitor can get the original in any case.

Protect photos in Flash

Utilizing Flash to display photos will slow down the copying because the photo will no longer be recognized as a photo (site and photo downloaders) but it can still be copied by taking a screen shot. Also, there are many programs available today that are used to decompile Flash and extract their contents. Flash used to support some functions for disabling the clipboard but those functions are no longer supported in the latest versions.

Disabling right click mouse actions

Disabling right mouse click can slow down copying but it offers nothing more than a mild inconvenience to the person who wants to steal your photos. By disabling the right-click capability of your mouse, you are removing the menu options which include copy, paste, save as, etc. However, a simple page save will allow you to save all photos and your web page into a folder, including your Flash movies, JavaScript, among others. Of course, disabling JavaScript in the web browser's settings will enable and allow you to use all of the right-click actions.

Disabling Internet Explorer's image toolbar

When the mouse hovers over a photo, IE6+’s image toolbar appears automatically with an option to save the photo. Of course, this can be disabled but it is just one of the many threats that we are faced with as a result of the browser makers and other advocates of plagiarism offering more and more tools for stealing our livelihood.

Preventing web browser "save whole page" copying

First, only Internet Explorer offered the option of wholly saving a web page with all photos and other media neatly packed into a folder. Nowadays, however, all browsers allow this kind of action to be carried out. This will save the page and collect every component that is used on that page, easily evading most copy protective measures that you may have installed. The only way to prevent this diabolical saving technique is to use encrypted photos.

Protecting a photo within an applet

While a photo is displayed in a Java applet and may be safe from mouse saves and site grabbers, the photo can still be copied by taking a screenshot and the visitor can also view source to get the location of the photo. There are also many ordinary applets proffered as photo protection in an attempt to imitate ArtistScope's security applets (more info below).

Protect photos stored in cache

Regardless of how the photo is diced or spliced, it can still be located in cache. Every component of a web page is first downloaded and saved in the temporary Internet folder known as "cache". Not so long ago, web browsers might have itemized the content of their cache but accessing a file directly was almost impossible. But today, that has all changed and the browser makers have yet again made our livelihood more accessible to everyone by enabling direct access with a simple “double-click”. To protect content stored in trash, that is, to prevent it from being directly accessible, it needs to be encrypted or domain-locked so that it is inaccessible and its original location will not be compromised.

Protect photos from direct download and site grabbers

There are numerous programs available for searching websites and downloading media. Some specialize in particular file types and others can be set to look for a desired file type. These programs, often known as site grabbers, will spider your web pages like a search engine does and list the targets for download. To protect from this copy/save technique, you need to either encrypt your photos or the links to them, or have your pages delivered on the fly using a scripting language like ASP or PHP that set some special requirements before delivering the page.

Protect photos with encryption

Encrypted photos cannot be displayed without first being decrypted, otherwise they won't be visible. Photo encryption is also the most secure solution for storing photos on a web server because until they are decrypted, they are of no use even to your webmaster. First developed by ArtistScope in 1998, Secure Image is the only solution that will display encrypted photos on a web page.

Encrypted photos created by ArtistScope copy protection solutions cannot be displayed in any photo viewer except ArtistScope's security viewer as well as only from the owner's website. The key code for decryption is embedded into the photo and when loaded, the security applet checks the key code against the url that is displaying the website. If the encrypted photo's key code does not match the website, the photo will not be displayed.

Encrypted photos are also safe from retrieval from browser cache (temporary internet files) because the photo in cache is the encrypted version and not one that has been decrypted. Only ArtistScope's security applet can decrypt the photo and it does that only if it is displayed on the owner's website.

Encrypted photos can offer the following protection for photos:

  • Protect photos from right click menu options including save as, copy, paste, etc.
  • Protect photos from browser "save whole page" with photos included
  • Protect photos from drag-and-drop-save to the clipboard actions
  • Protect the link to the photo from direct download
  • Protect photos from photo search engines
  • Protect photos from site grabbers and remote downloaders
  • Protect photos from web publishers like
Encrypted photos created by ArtistScope solutions (true photo encryption) are not to be confused with photos that were encrypted by page encryption software because these use weak JavaScript encryption for html and does not protect and encrypt the photo at all. They may encrypt a link to a photo but they cannot encrypt the photo itself. For proper software to encrypt photos, please see Secure Image and CopySafe Web.

Even with all of the above considered, the following photo copy is still possible:

  • Taking a screenshot by using the Print Screen key
  • Taking a screenshot by using one of hundreds of different screen capture programs
  • Taking a screenshot from a remote computer

Protect photos from Print Screen

Trying to protect photos from Print Screen, using the button to take a screenshot of the whole screen, from a web browser, it not easy and is almost impossible. It is absolutely impossible to protect from Print Screen using JavaScript or any other client-side scripting that is performed in the web browser. Anyone who tries to tell you that Print Screen can be prevented using JavaScript is either a fool or simply trying to con you. JavaScript does not have access to your clipboard and cannot prevent screenshots without express permission of the owner. In Internet Explorer, permission is required and in Mozilla browsers, such methods are illegal and protected by the security limitations of JavaScript itself. To properly protect from Print Screen, a plugin resource is required that has permission to function at system level.

Protect photos from screen capture

To protect photos from screenshots and screen capture you need a plugin with permission to operate at system level. There are many plugins proffered as screen capture protection but they are mostly not secure because they rely on detecting a screen capture program by name and preventing it from functioning or causing it to crash. The only solution that properly prevents PrintScreen is the CopySafe solution by ArtistScope, which runs as a Windows service to manage the clipboard when necessary.

Protect from screenshots while viewing remotely

After every precaution has been taken and every preventative technique employed, there is still the possibility that someone can take a screenshot while viewing your web page using a remote connection. "Remote viewing" is the process of logging into another computer from your computer and being able to view and run programs on the desktop. In effect, the person is operating the other computer remotely and see and does most things just as if they were using it directly.

Protect photos with CopySafe

CopySafe Web is the only solution that provides protection from all of the copying threats that we have discussed here.

The CopySafe Runtime is not to be confused with any of the hack imitations that you may find offered elsewhere. CopySafe was designed as a universal solution for use on Windows to secure the livelihood of artists, a cause that ArtistScope has maintained by overcoming ever emerging obstacles since 1998.

The fact that others may try to imitate CopySafe is just another example of the piracy, plagiarism and theft of intellectual property that we are all trying to prevent.

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  • Prevent Printscreen
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  • Prevent screenshot

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