How Can I Protect My Images Online?

Written by Nerissa Staggers

With the wave of technological advancements on the Internet and social media, it’s nearly impossible for photographers to protect their photos online.  Even if you wish to protect your photos from infringement, users can always figure out ways to steal it anyway.  If your images are popular, valuable, distinctive, you may want to consider the following potential methods of protecting your photos online.  As a practical matter, use as many forms of protection as you can.  The more difficult it is to steal your photographs the more likely infringers will be deterred from stealing.  In the event that there is an infringement, there are some remedies in and out of court.

Protecting Photographs online

Register your copyrights to your photos

Although your photographs are copyrighted as soon as it is affixed to a given medium, (i.e. a website), you will need to register them to get the full benefit of protection against unauthorized use of your work.  Registration creates a public record of the copyright so that there is no dispute as to who the actual owner is.  If it is made within 5 years of the first publication, it constitutes prima facie evidence that the copyright is valid in court.

Registration is necessary for filing suit in the U.S. and recovering statutory damages, actual damages, or attorney’s fees.  You can register at anytime, but can only obtain certain benefits through timely registration.  In order to be awarded statutory damages or attorney’s fees for an infringement claim, you must register the copyright within 3 months of the first publication.

The U.S. registration requirement also applies to foreign photographers.  When images are published on the Internet, there is simultaneous publication in the U.S.  Therefore, in order for a foreign photographer to claim damages against a U.S. infringer, the photos must be registered.  You can register online or by mail through the U.S. Copyright Office.

Shrink wrapping image

Shrink wrapping is one way to protect photos online.  The purpose of shrink wrapping your photographs is to trick the infringer that he is taking your photograph.  It adds a transparent cover over the photo.  When an infringer attempts to download the photograph, they actually download the transparent cover instead of the photo itself.


Watermarks is a common way to identify your images as your own.  Again, this is not a surefire way to protect against infringement, but it operates as a deterrent to potential infringers.  People are often dissuaded from taking a photo with a watermark plastered on it.  In certain cases, it might take away from the beauty of the photograph, but it is up to the photographer to apply the watermark in a way that does not affect the quality of the photo.

Disable right click

The simplest way to protect your photos are to disable the right click button to prevent users from downloading the image.  In order to achieve this, you must disable the Javascript.  The instructions on how to do this may vary depending on your browser or web platform.

Searching for Infringements



TinEye is a reverse image search engine.  You can submit an image to TinEye to find out where it came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or to find higher resolution versions.


Pic Scout 

PicScout ImageExchange instantly identifies images on the web, providing creative professionals with image information and a one-click connection to licensors.  With ImageExchange licensors know exactly where their content is being used.  PicScout allows image owners to protect images with ImageTracker™.

Pic Scout

Google image search

Search by image through Google allows you to do a reverse image search and discover all sorts of content that’s related to a specific image.

Google Search By Image 


Turn an infringer into a client

Once you find that your photo is being used without your authorization you may want to reach out to the infringer and request a licensing fee to use the photo as an offer of settlement.  This is the perfect scenario because everyone wins.  You get compensated for you work, and the infringer gets a beautiful photo for their blog or website.

DMCA Takedown Notice

If you do not want the infringer to use the photo at all, you can send a demand letter to the infringer to cease and desist using the photo.  You can also issue a DMCA takedown notice to alert the host of the site or the ISP provider of where the infringing material is found, and have them remove it without the need of filing suit.

File a lawsuit

Last Resort!! When you cannot get the infringement claim resolved through the previous options, the last resort would be to battle it out in court.  Remember, you must have a registered copyright that has been timely filed in order to file a lawsuit in Federal District Court.  Lawsuits can be a long, drawn out process, and legal fees can get expensive, therefore take careful consideration prior to deciding on using formal litigation.  Consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction for the best legal options.


Featured Artist

James Maher is a fine art, portraiture, and professional studio photographer based in New York City.  James credits his inspiration for photography to his love for the city and its endless supply of diverse and unique personalities and stories to capture. James sells his prints directly to collectors, companies, interior designers, and fine art companies around the world.  His work is currently shown in Tiffany & Co. stores around the globe. Check out more work from James here

About the author

Nerissa Staggers

Nerissa Staggers is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of A graduate of Temple University, Fox School of Business, and Texas Southern University, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Nerissa Staggers is an analytical thinker and an appreciator of the arts. She’s worked in the fashion industry for several years in New York City prior to obtaining her law degree, taking on buying, production, and management roles. Her interests expand beyond just fashion to entertainment, media, and entrepreneurship. She loves the idea of linking the worlds of creativity, business, and law. Intellectual Property law is that link. She completed intellectual property coursework at New York Law School as a visiting student to further concentrate on this area. The purpose of this site is to support artists and small businesses by helping to protect their creative interests. Outside of work, Nerissa enjoys volunteering and serving on non-profit boards in her local community.


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