Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

The best you can do is to work with the system and display images in a way that works in your favor.

I intend to put my painting for sale on Kijiji or eBay. What can I do to protect them from being downloaded and copied?

In this excerpt from Answercast #54, I look at several ways to protect visual media online.

Copy protection

The short answer is very little.

One of the things that computers are very, very good at is copying things. When you put something up for sale on any site, you're essentially (especially when it's a visual idea like an image or a photograph)... you're basically having to present a photograph that people can look at to understand what it is they want to purchase.

Lesser quality image

What you can play with is making sure that the photograph that is shown is of lesser quality than the one people would buy or that it has a watermark. In other words, you put some kind of a logo or a name or something across it that identifies you as the owner.

If you ever go to iStockPhoto, and take a look at some of the thumbnail images, that are available for purchase at, you'll see that they actually have a watermark across the entire image that identifies it as being an iStockPhoto image. When you purchase the product, when you purchase that stock photo, that watermark is, of course, not there.

Include your logo

I do something similar with the images that I use on Ask Leo!.

If you ever take a look at many of the screen captures that I include on my website, I have in a corner an overlay that is the Ask Leo! logo with my URL. If an image is stolen or copied from my site, at a minimum, it's more likely to act as an advertisement than anything else.

Another approach is to overlay a strict copyright message. On many of my personal photographs that I upload to places like Flickr and so forth I have, not a watermark, but an actual overlay that says, "Copyright such and such, whatever year, Leo Notenboom."

So those are the kinds of things you can do.

Copy prevention is unlikely

You cannot prevent things from being copied.

If you put something on a website, if you present or provide a picture that can be displayed in the browser, it can be copied. There's just simply no way around that.

So the best you can do is to work with that system and to only display and only provide images that basically work in your favor:

  • Lower quality, smaller sizes, lower resolution - that encourage people to want the larger version that they would pay for;

  • Or put on something like a watermark - that people could remove once they purchase your product.

Article C5831 - September 19, 2012 « »

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.

Not what you needed?

Ken B
September 20, 2012 7:48 PM

Think of it this way... In order for the browser to display the image, the browser must have a copy of that image in its memory.

Yes, there are simple ways to disable things such as the ability to right-click on the image in an attempt to prevent the "save image as" feature, but (1) they're easily circumvented, (2) they interfere with other, "legitimate", functionality, and (3) a lot of people simply see that as a challenge and will go out of their way to find a way to make a copy of the image.

Follow Leo's advice, and either give a lower-quality "preview"-type image, or watermark it.

September 21, 2012 7:22 AM

Something as simple as print-screen will circumvent a lot of "don't touch this" image protection. I've also seen sledgehammer-style programs that download EVERY image from a given URL, so I agree with Leo. Low quality watermarked images are the way to go.

September 21, 2012 9:08 AM

A watermark is probably your best protection - and there are even smartypants that can delete the watermark. But that is not all that easy. Else there is little you can do. I can copy anything that appears on the web.

Jo E Melisky
September 21, 2012 3:21 PM

I recall "no right click" to stop copying off pictures. Certain photos from Ground Zero taken by the NYFD can't be copied.

Check this out and here is the url

{{copyrighted material removed}}

As others have pointed out disabling right click gives you a very false sense of security. In fact the images can still be easily copied. If you can see it, you can copy it.

September 22, 2012 5:32 AM

Windows comes with the Microsoft Snipping Tool, which lets you select screen areas and put them on the Clipboard. This bypasses any protection I've found. You have to activate it by going to Windows Explorer > open the System32 folder > drag the Snipping Tool to the Start Menu. I also pin it to the Taskbar.

September 24, 2012 5:53 PM

If you use a watermark (which is probably the best) or overlay, make sure you use something that contains the same colours as those in your painting (although not the same colours as those in the part you are putting the watermark on).

I have a paint program where I can pick up a particular colour from the picture. I can then use a special eraser tool and erase only that specific colour. So if your watermark uses a unique colour from your painting, I could easily erase the watermark. If you use a colour (or multiple colours) that are in your painting, you're going to make it a lot more difficult.

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