How to Protect Your Artwork Online

Artwork Archive | November 29, 2017

While having an online presence is critical to having a thriving art career, it also comes with the risk of possible image infringement.

Even if you’ve chosen to copyright your images, there are still some measures you can take to prevent your images from being used in a way you didn’t intend.

Sites like Artwork Archive automatically downsize your images should you choose to have a public profile, making it so potential infringers are unable to replicate or make copies of your artwork.

However, if you choose to have hi-resolution images online, there are a few things you can do to deter theft.


Making Your Mark

You can put potential infringers on notice of your copyright in a particular work by developing a personal watermark to include on all your photographs. Putting infringers on notice is important because it can demonstrate willful infringement by anyone who uses your work without your permission.

This can be helpful if you choose to bring a lawsuit against an infringer, as the infringer’s removal of the watermark will help establish proof of infringement.


While a watermark may affect the visual quality of the work, the benefits and protections it affords the photographer make it useful to include on photographs posted online. It is also necessary to consider the size of the watermark to be used — smaller watermarks are easier to remove.


A helpful watermarking tip is to tile your watermark. This creates a horizontal light mark that is tiled across the whole photo in multiple places making removing the watermark more difficult.

A budding concern for many photographers is whether watermarks are actually necessary if they can be so easily removed. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has provided some insight into why you should continue to watermark your work.

The DMCA makes it illegal to remove copyright information from your photos, and this includes watermarks. You can recover for the removal of your watermark under the DMCA if you can prove that the original watermark was removed or changed. A DMCA takedown notice can be issued for a registered work as well as an unregistered work.


To send a takedown notice you must establish that:

  1. You own the copyright

  2. The infringement is not covered by a defense such as fair use

  3. The work is in a digital form capable of being infringed online.

Websites in compliance with the DMCA should have instructions that describe the process to send a takedown notice, including additional instructions regarding whom to send the notice and what additional information, if any, must be included.

The fines for a DMCA violation can be up to $25,000 dollars.

For registered copyrights, you can recover fines in addition to the damages available. There are stringent provisions that you would have to follow to file a DMCA takedown notice, but it can make recovery easier if you file.


Shrink Wrapping to Foil Infringers

Shrink wrapping your photo is the process of placing a clear image over the photograph you want to display on your website or social media platform.

The clear layer will discourage infringers who attempt to download the image by downloading an image file that is clear rather than the actual photograph.

Photos can be shrink wrapped on many online platforms, whether your own website or a social media platform such as Facebook. This technique provides a clear layer of protection that won’t affect the visual quality of your work.

Learn how to shrink wrap your photos.


The Slice & Dice

Another way to protect your work online is through a process called tiling. Tiling is the process of cutting or slicing a digital photograph into multiple pieces using photograph software, uploading the pieces to your webpage, and piecing it back together.

Though this process can be very time consuming, it can offer an additional layer of protection that doesn’t affect the visual quality of your photographs. Only someone attempting to download your image would know it was sliced and diced.

In order to successfully copy an image that is tiled, each individual section of the photograph will need to saved and reorganized exactly as the photo appeared on the site. While this process is tedious for the photographer, it is more tedious for anyone who wants to undertake the process of copying your work.

Let’s consider an additional hypothetical situation.

Let’s say you tile an online hi-res image that is 6000px x 6000px. If you tile this image into 10 pieces, the time you spend cutting the image may be substantial. However, a person copying this photo will have to spend a sufficient amount of time downloading each tile, piecing it back together, editing out any copyright notices, and reposting it.

The amount of time required to complete this process without errors serves as a great deterrent.

Learn how to slice and dice


Be Proactive

Unfortunately, no technique provides 100% assurance that your photographs or artwork will not be compromised online. However, employing these techniques in conjunction with filing with the Copyright Office will help bolster protection of your work and prepare you for an infringement suit, should that be necessary.

As a further proactive measure, consider conducting a reverse image search using sites like and These sites will help you track the use of your work online.


Looking for a safe place to display your work online? Get started with Artwork Archive to store, organize and display your artwork. 


This article was contributed and authored by the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of Massachusetts, a program of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston.

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