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Drawing Tips: Protecting Your Images

How theft can ruin your day:

So you're an artist, and you finally got around to getting your pieces scanned, learning some HTML, making your pages, making your graphics (and making them again a week later because you decided you didn't like that color afterall) and you now have a website.  Terrific!  You're happy - you've spent a lot of time and work on your drawings and on your site, and you're hoping to meet some new people, get some feedback on your work, maybe even get a commission or two or sell a print to help pay for your art supplies.

All goes well, and then you're wandering around on the web and you discover that someone has taken one of your lovingly scanned images, cropped it, put bad text on it that says "MONSTRKILLR2000" and is using it as their icon.  They never give you credit for the picture, nor did they ask you if they could crop the image and put bad text on it.  To a random visitor, it could look for all the world like MONSTRKILLR2000 was the artist.

Rude, huh?  You spent hours on that piece, and someone wandering by decided to just help themselves.

So how can you stop people from taking your images, without removing your site in disgust?

Good question.

People are not all evil.

Most people who take images have no idea that it's rude and is a source of extreme irritation for artists.  They're just ignorant.  They haven't spent hours drawing a piece, only to have their credit taken from the image in a few seconds.  They don't really mean to be jerks; they're mostly thinking "Look, pretty!" and not much else.  These people are easy to deal with, and a few simple deterrents or reminders will either eliminate their behavior or turn them into good, artist-friendly citizens of the web.

There are several things you can do as an artist to protect your work, or make it less attractive to steal.  Most of them are fairly simple.

1.  Always, always, put your name and contact information on your images.  It could be an email address or a web address.  Something that will allow people to trace the work back to you, if it should be posted on another page without credit.  Put this on every image you upload and keep it consistent and accurate.  Style and size is up to you, but I would make sure the type is big enough to be easily legible and does cover some part of your work.

2. Don't post large, high quality images.  Try keeping your images under 700x700 pixels.  Save your jpegs at a medium - not high - quality.  This is hard for artists because so much of the details are lost in a smaller image, but you can always post a closeup of a more detailed area.  Don't give out high quality images to anyone who asks.

3.  Be clear that your work is copyrighted and you don't want it taken.  Make sure to provide an email address or a way for others to get in touch with you if they do want permission to post an image.

Robots might be evil.

No, I'm not talking sci-fi.  Robots (or spiders) are programs that scour the web gathering data for search engines and other purposes.  Some of them harvest images.  If someone links to your page, there's a good chance that your site will be found by a robot and indexed.  Of course, if you want people to find your page you will have to submit it to search engines, so eventually your page will be found by a robot.  Otherwise no one will find your site, and that's pointless.

What's image harvesting, you ask?  Image harvesting is when the robot indexes your images and allows people to search through just them, instead of visiting your site.  This means that a potential image thief could type in "drawing of a unicorn" and find your drawing and take it, all without visiting your page and seeing your careful "copyrighted, do not take" messages.  Robots don't know if your images are copyrighted or not, so they harvest everything.

Examples of image harvesting:  Google

How do you stop robots?  There are two ways.

If you have your own domain, you can create a file called "robots.txt" that is a little text message that tells robots where they can't go and what they can't index.  An example of a robots.txt file would be:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /contact.html
Disallow: /*.gif$
Disallow: /*.jpg$

This file is telling any robot that finds your page not to index the file 'contact.html', or any files that end in .gif or .jpg (image files).  The file goes in the root directory for your page, where robots can find it easily.

(Robots are also used by spammers to find email addresses.  If you put your email on your site, you may consider blocking that page from being indexed or somehow altering your address so you don't get spam.)

You can find more information about robots.txt files here: http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/norobots.html

However, if you don't have your own domain and are using a free hosting service like Tripod or Angelfire or such, you cannot use the robots.txt file, since you don't have control over the root directory.

Your other option is meta tags.

Meta tags go in the top part of your HTML file, which looks similar to this:

   <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">
   <meta name="Author" content="Delusion Girl">
   <meta name="GENERATOR" content="Mozilla/4.79 [en] (Windows NT 5.0; U) [Netscape]">

You can place a tag in that section that would read:


This means that when it found that particular page, the robot would read this tag and know not to index this page, or to follow any links from this page.

A meta tag like this:


Would tell the robot not to index the page, but it is okay to follow any links from the page.

While this does allow you to control exactly which pages are indexed by robots, keep in mind that not all robots recognize and follow meta commands.  This also cannot be modified to protect just your images.

For more information on meta tags, check this: http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/exclusion.html#meta

I would also reccommend checking out Google's FAQ for webmasters.  Since Google is a very popular search engine and used by Yahoo! and will be used by AOL, it's a good idea to read it and learn about how it indexes your site.

Extreme measures.

Say your polite "this image is copyrighted" messages didn't work.  People erased your name and contact info from your images and used them anyway.  You're sick and tired of it and are thinking about just taking your site down.

Is there some way to really, REALLY make sure people can't take your stuff?

Sure there is.  :-)

1.  Slice 'n dice your images.  Cut them into pieces (how many is up to you) and place them in a table format.  When the picture is displayed, it will look whole, but when someone tries to right click and save your image, they will only get a chunk of it.

Pros:  People will likely be way too frustrated to get every chunk and paste them back together.

Cons:  Takes time to cut up and create tables for your images.

2.  Disable the right click function of the mouse while people are visiting your page.  You can find some simple code that will do this.  However, it isn't foolproof.  People can find other ways of getting to your image if they're inclined, but most casual visitors will let your image be.

I have heard of other methods being used by artists and will see if I can save them here as a reference.

If you have any comments/questions, feel free to visit the message board.

Graphics, Content, Artwork © Copyright 1989-2005, Jennie Seay
All Rights Reserved - ask for permission before using anything on this page

Huge thanks to the many talented people who can code and provide their stuff online for people like me. :-)
Credit goes to:

Greymatter mods:
Moe Figit's stats mod
David Beckemeyer's anti-spam comments hack
Also, thanks to the Greymatter forums for helping me over the years.
Javascript and CSS code snippets from The JavaScript Source and Hypergurl.
DHTML menu by Milonic found at Dynamic Drive.
Some quotes found at Famous Quotations.

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