The Right Click Disable Fallacy

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Occasionally I get asked about right click disable in my galleries. There is one in LRB Portfolio, but none in Showcase or Exhibition. Why not? The honest answer is that it's a fallcy to believe that disabling right click download will protect your photos online.

Anyone can get any photo, from any site, at any time, irrespective of whether or not right click download has been disabled. Even the non tech savvy know they make a screen capture. Take a browser like Chrome for example. By clicking the View Source command, each image is highlighted as a link to the full image. No right click code can prevent that.

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There's a slight irony that I'm showing you a screen capture of an image I have in a Chrome tab, because if someone wants an image, they can just screen capture it.

Even with it disabled, you can still drag a photo out of the browser into a folder on Mac. My sample image up there has a watermark on it. Theory says that should prevent people taking it. I’d love to tell you that’s true, but I see images all over the net, and even in print flyers where the images used clearly have watermarks. At least the watermark might bring traffic back to you. Watermarks are horrible, but if you don’t use them anyone that wants your image will simply take them.

Years ago, it was felt that using a Flash based site would prevent stealing. Let’s forget the screen capture issue for just one minute. Older flash sites did embed the images in the flash file (the SWF file that Flash generates). The problem with this was that they tended to be lower quality to prevent the site file becoming too large for people to wait for it to load. So a lot of developers switched to using XML (a machine and human readable text launguage) to tell the SWF where to load image files from. If you did a ‘View Source’ on this site, the XML would be listed, and by viewing that, you could access the image files.

The bottom line is that if someone wants a copy of your photo, they can get it. The only real solution is to not put it online. Obviously as photographers we want our images viewed, so to me, watermarking, as ugly as it is, is our only hope of bringing people back to our work.

As a side note, when I first put the image above on Facebook, my watermark wasn't added. It was a newer Lightroom preset to make it 851 px wide for a cover photo, and I forgot to add a watermark. It went viral. I couldn't keep track of the amount of people using it as cover photo. Even though it wasn't watermarked, I was able to get higher profile posters to link back to me, which led to a lot of print sales and some commercial licensing. The photo has huge local interest, which doesn't translate on a global scale, but I did benefit greatly from the sharing of the photo.

If you want to find where your images have been used, Google's Image Search is excellent.

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