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Copy protecting websites is difficult, and I believe there is no practical, technical solution.

Dear Leo, I'd like to make some money with my copyrights. What would be the best way to copy protect my texts on my website? I do not think that not copy protecting on my website at all would be the solution and spending my days trying to remove the copies of my text from the internet is not the way I'd like to spend my days. Do you have a solution as to how best copy protect my texts on the internet? Maybe you would know what would be the best software to use or maybe some other solution.

In this excerpt from Answercast #70, I look at the difficulties in protecting copyrighted material online.

Copy-protecting websites

Well, I'll put it this way: no, there is no practical, feasible way to copy protect text on the internet. If you can see it, it can be copied.

There are lots of ways to make it more difficult. I have seen people use Javascript to turn off the copy function in the browser. I have seen people turn all of their text into an image so that you can't just copy the text, you actually have an image. But there are a raft of problems with either of those kinds of solutions and other solutions that people have proposed. Ultimately, they're all circumvent-able.

In other words, pretty much anything you do to your text to make it harder to copy does not make it impossible to copy.

I can copy it! If I can read it on the screen, if I can see it, I can make a copy of it.

Managing online copyrights

So, I'm in the same boat you are. I have thousands of articles on my website and I do make money from the advertising that runs on the site. It does, in fact, harm me when other sites copy my information without my permission.

I have in fact sent out "Takedown notices" to a couple of places when I've discovered that they are in fact, republishing my copyrighted material without my permission.

But ultimately, you'll notice that on Ask Leo!, I've done nothing technical to prevent people from copying my text. Just because I know that futility thereof.

It would give you a false sense of security. If someone was dedicated or really motivated to copy the information off of your site, they're going to figure out a way to do it. God knows, I could!

It's just not that terribly difficult. Copy protecting is.

Design for the readers

So my recommendation is ultimately: make it easy for your readers to read your text.

Don't get in your readers' way - and then prioritize your work. You know, send takedown notices to the most egregious offenders. Set up some Google Alerts so that you're notified when something of yours appears out on the internet, but then take it from there.

It's just not the kind of a thing for which I believe there's a practical, technical solution.

Article C6036 - November 15, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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9 Comments
Paul Masters
November 15, 2012 8:23 PM

Snopes does a pretty good job of disabling the ability to highlight text so that you can copy it, but even then you can "view source" and copy from there - yes, you'd have to do some editing to get rid of the HTML, but still, you'd have the text.

Bob
November 16, 2012 5:05 AM

You only need to be able to 'see' the text.
Something as simple as opening Notepad and typing as you read gives you a near-perfect non-traceable reproduction, no matter how complicated or convoluted the protection on the text or the webpage.
Don't like typing? photograph the screen and feed the image into OCR software. Less accurate, less time consuming.
As Leo says, if you can see it, it can be copied. If you make it difficult, you will deter more readers than copiers.

connie
November 16, 2012 9:02 AM

And imagine that some perfect technology is invented to make it so a page can't be copied. All you'd have to do is pull out a digital camera and take a picture of your screen, and there you go... a copy!

My favorite experience is some application that actually disabled the ability to do a screen capture in Windows. I took that as a challenge. I used remote desktop to connect to that computer, brought up the content in question, and screen captured it on the other computer. Worked like a champ. "If it can be seen, it can be copied."
Leo
16-Nov-2012

Ken B
November 16, 2012 10:35 AM

Paul Masters said:

Snopes does a pretty good job of disabling the ability to highlight text so that you can copy it
Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C, start notepad, Ctrl-V.

Leo:

My favorite experience is some application that actually disabled the ability to do a screen capture in Windows. I took that as a challenge.
And that is the biggest reason why copy protection won't work. I bet you had no real desire to do a screen capture, until you found that the program was specifically designed to disable that feature. (I might have been tempted to submit a bug report on that one. ("I can no longer take screen captures of my program, if your program is running in the background.")

There are plenty of people out there (and I am among them) who see such obstacles as a challenge, not because we need to copy/paste the text, but because someone went out of their way to make it "impossible" to do so.

Paul Masters
November 16, 2012 12:37 PM

Ken B - No, that doesn't work in Snopes. Not in Chrome, anyway.

Ken B
November 17, 2012 10:53 AM

Ah... Firefox works using Ctrl-A/Ctrl-C, but Chrome does not. Apparently, Chrome supports a feature that Firefox doesn't. (I don't know is it's a new HTML thing, or a Chrome thing.

Here's the code: ("disableselect" and "reEnable" are Javascript functions to intercept the mouse clicks.)

if (typeof document.onselectstart!="undefined")
document.onselectstart=new Function ("return false")
else{
document.onmousedown=disableselect
document.onmouseup=reEnable
}

Apparently, Chrome stops Ctrl-A from selecting text because of the "onselectstart" property, whereas Firefox does not.

Bob
November 19, 2012 3:18 AM

One way to 'protect' your text on a web-page.
1. make images very difficult to 'download'
2. put all of your text in one huge Captcha-styled image.
The Captcha will foil most methods of OCR (that's what it's there for) and simply re-posting the picture once they manage to get it will be easy enough to trace (google can already search based upon an uploaded picture)

Only thing though - i know i would not put in the required effort to read 'pages' of Captcha. I hate having to recognize two words...

Jack
November 19, 2012 1:44 PM

Leo, your comments may be fine for your articles, which are short, and where it is not likely you would lose money be someone copying some of them and putting them on their own web site.

But, sometimes, we are talking a a long, valuable e-book where the author is dependent on income from the e-book sales. In this case, the harm to the author is much greater. It almost seems like you do not appreciate the purpose and benefits of copywrite laws.

You should follow up now, with an article on the best software programs and methods to use if an author WANTS to protect his work from being copied and given away or worse, re-sold to others.

You forget: I'm an ebook publisher as well and I totally get copyright law. What I'm saying here isn't that you shouldn't copy-protect you works - go ahead if you feel the need. What I'm saying is that I believe it's futile to do so in the face of someone who's sufficiently motivated to steal it. There is no copy-protection software that is 100% hack-proof. None. And even if there were it could still be copied by other means such as screen captures or other techniques. If your income depends on a 100% un-copyable ebook, then in my opinion you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
Leo
20-Nov-2012

Mark J
November 20, 2012 12:07 AM

@Jack
You're getting into a whole new topic in that question. In that case you would need to use some kind of DRM software which can protect your documents up to a point,but is still crackable. It's a complex subject which is discussed in the links Leo included at the end of the article.

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