All web designers run across this at some point: a client has created something to sell and they want to make sure it won’t get stolen when they put it online.
Visual art, audio, video, poems, how-to’s, blogs, and other such materials are what we call IP or intellectual property. There is a lot of exaggeration and paranoia surrounding these items and the potential for theft/piracy.
Yes, there are means to prevent theft but none of it is 100% foolproof.
Here are a few facts about managing IP online
Common Bad Anti-Theft Ideas for Image Protection
Watermarking: It looks tacky. It looks cheesy. It distracts from the work. It doesn’t cover the whole image; someone can take just part of your image. You look a bit full of yourself too.
Disabling right-click: It is very frustrating for visitors who like to open links in new tabs or windows by using right-click.
Using Flash: A fair number of people hate it and never install it. More so since it has become conduit for the passing of viruses and exploits to surfer’s computers. Plus: nothing stops visitors from taking a screenshot and then using the image as they please.
There are other bad ideas out there too. Mostly, you’re just wasting time, money and effort on a lost cause.
Currently, I take two steps to slow access to my content, and that’s about it.
(Warning non-techies: I’ll geek out for a moment here and then return you to the non-technical parts of the article. I’ll do my best to make this quick and painless.)
1. I add something to each site’s robots.txt file that tells search engines not to index the image folder. It looks like this: Disallow: /images/
2. I put something in the .htaccess file that tells web browsers they can’t view the image directory (provided the web host doesn’t already do this). This can be done for folders that contain audio, or any other IP too. It looks like this: Options –Indexes
That’s pretty much the extent of my effort. Not 100% foolproof, nothing is, but its something.
(Sorry non-techies…I’m done now. Read on!)
Your best option is to learn a bit more about the subject and put your mind at ease.
First: don’t believe the hype. People are not just stealing IP willy nilly and using it all times. Most people put things online and no one bothers with it.
Second: don’t believe the other hype: that piracy of your property always hurts you. Piracy has actually proven to be helpful to many artists and businesses. The product gets passed around and gains greater exposure. Amazingly, there are more honest than dishonest people out there, so a lot of people will decide to buy that product or they may purchase other products of yours due to their exposure to the item passed around. Also, many people who become your fans know that if they want you to keep making that thing they love, they have to keep you in business. And they’ll pay to do so. This is not to say its ok to pirate material; I don’t think so at all. I would still take steps to deal with stolen content (see below). But I don’t think it is the horror that some such as the record industry want to make it out to be. At the very least, I wouldn’t spend my nights sleepless over the subject.
Third: file a copyright. It’s not hard. It’s not especially expensive. Forget the poor man’s copyright of mailing your items to yourself. The best proof you have of owning something is filing your copyright with the United States Copyright Office or the equivalent office in your country.
Lastly: get to know the U.S. DMCA and web hosts DMCA takedown policy. DMCA stands for Digital Millenium Copyright Act and every web host in the U.S. should have a DMCA policy. This means that if you contact them and provide the appropriate information informing them of the theft, the web host is required to act on that immediately.
My husband’s popular humor site (20k+ unique visitors per month) frequently has people that copy his information wholesale and put it on their site. Usually when he runs across it, he asks that they take down most of it and please link to his site (after all, he gets money from advertising on there). Most people are very understanding. Some get a little snarky but take it down anyway. In the years the site has been up, we’ve only had to file a DMCA takedown once. This is why I’m fairly sure this won’t be a problem for most people out there.
If you are still concerned about theft of your content, Jen over at DrakNet wrote a nice article on Protecting Your Site’s Content from Plagiarism. She lists a number of tools for tracking your content’s use on the web.
I have to agree with her when it comes to protecting your intellectual property: “Good luck with this one. Really. I mean it.”