Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why You Need to Watermark Your Images

It's should come at no surprise that anything you put up on the Internet can get ripped off.  People seem to think that if they find an image online, they're free to use it themselves without either paying for it or even giving proper attribution.  If you're reading this, you may have already experienced this problem yourself, and have come looking for a solution.  There are basically two approaches you can take - watermark all of your images, or use software on your website to try and protect your images on the fly.  Protecting your images on the fly is probably less work, but it's usually a lot less secure.

Even major corporations can go for the quick fix.  Disney's PhotoPass is a very slick site that lets visitors to their parks view and purchase images taken during their trip online.  My family just got back from a Thanksgiving trip there, so I got to experience the site first hand.

Disney's Photo Pass Website
Disney protects their photos by showing you small, low quality images that no one would be likely to want to steal. It's not a bad approach, but Disney's software is seriously flawed, because a technically-savy person (or even somewhat savy, like me) can quickly figure out how to get the full-size, full-quality image.  I won't go into details of how to bypass their security, because I believe that businesses deserve to profit from their work.  But you'd think that a major corporation, with plenty of bucks to throw around, would spend a bit more to protect themselves. 

Smaller businesses and independent free lancers have it even worse.  The photographer who took my daughter's school pictures last year used some Flash-based software that suffered from a similar, though different, security failure.  While Disney's software took about five minutes to figure out, the photographer's off-the-shelf software was even worse.

This year the school changed photography companies, and I'm glad to see that the new company uses the only reliable method - they expose only water marked images to the outside world.  By putting the watermark on the image, there is no work around to be found, and your images are protected.

Oh, and just to be clear - we bought the photos we liked from both sites.