There is no fail safe method to protect your images, however that should not deter photographers and artists from taking all possible measures to assert the rights to their creative work. In a world where images are consumed daily in their millions the effort to protect you work takes time and vigilance.
To assume that others may apply the same moralistic value to respecting the copyright or licensing of images be that under creative commons, rights managed or royalty free is naïve. Like all things in photography or other artistic endeavour protecting your work is an ongoing learning curve and sometimes it feels that the more you learn, the less you actually know.
If you are interested in taking a proactive approach to protecting your images, here are a few guidelines that I have adopted.
Apply a consistent and disciplined approach, each and every time you upload or share your images. There are many times in the past when my excitement at sharing an image that I was proud of overshadowed my efforts in protecting my work.
Understand the tools and functionality of your software. Most software today allows you to embed metadata, copyright information, and other information about your source image.
Understand what information online systems will upload and share with your image. Some social forums will strip out the metadata from your image on upload … in these cases including copyright information into your post as additional text is sometimes your only line of protection.
Incorporate watermarks. Finding the balance between protecting your image with a watermark and the watermark not detracting from the visual impact of your image can be an extensive journey of trial and error. I find myself continually trying out new watermarks to find those that best fit my photography, software, and sharing behaviour.
Respect the work of others. Give credit to the source of an image even if it is not required under the image’s license agreement or rights usage. As an artist, it is satisfying but sadly refreshing in this day and age when a consumer of your work credits your work or asks for permission to use your work.
Proudly assert your rights. At the end of the day, your work is your work and possibly your livelihood. Understand your rights. Your first line of defence is within your control.