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5 Easy ways to stop people from stealing your online photos

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Protect your online photos with these tips from the pros

The internet makes it convenient to share pics and videos with family and friends, but it also makes it easy to steal those precious memories. You can't protect yourself 100 percent, but pro photogs have been dealing with this for a while, and you can use the same tricks they use.

Why bother? Our own Maria Mora made the startling discovery that her adorable munchkin is famous — you've probably even seen his adorable pout somewhere on the internet.

Beware of Creative Commons

A Creative Commons license is actually a great way for pros and amateurs alike to contribute free art for use by bloggers and small websites. But it's intended to govern how your photos are shared, so it's important that you carefully read and understand the associated license.

If you don't want anyone using them at all, you must mark them as "all rights reserved." But that's not always enough.

Use watermarks

According to photographer Craig Mitchelldyer, "A watermark will help with identifying where the image came from, and could deter people from using or stealing an image without permission." But he warns that it won't prevent an image from being stolen.

If you put the watermark on the edge (he uses the bottom left), it can easily be cropped out or even covered by a skilled photo-editor. "The advantage to having it right in the middle is it cannot be [removed easily]," he explains. "The obvious disadvantage is that it could take away from the image and be distracting."

If you'd like to try watermarking your photos, I like PicMonkey.

Use protection

Photographer Todd Owyoung suggests caution with social media accounts and limiting access to your photos to trusted acquaintances. Privacy settings vary from site to site, so make sure you understand how it works and check your privacy settings frequently. Twitter and Instagram, for example, allow you to control who follows you (who can see your posts). Facebook offers more flexibility by allowing you to share with specific groups of followers.

Both photographers recommend a private gallery called PhotoShelter to control who has access.

Social media issues

According to the Digital Media Law Project, the availability of embed features on social media sites may mean your media can be used on someone else's blog without your explicit permission if it's part of a post embedded using the site's available embed feature.

It's not set in stone, but a one decision on the subject of these embeds concluded that they do "not directly infringe copyright because no copy is made on the site providing the link." As such, it's a good idea to make sure your friends and relatives know they shouldn't share your media either.

Additionally, the social media site in question may have verbiage in their terms of use that counteract or limit your copyright if you choose to share on their site.

Copyright infringed?

Kiffanie Stahle, who helps professional artists understand copyright and other laws affecting them, says these cases can be tricky, but they aren't impossible.

If you find that your picture is being used illegally, you should send the offender a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

But understand there may be cases in which use of your photo is considered "fair use" under the law. For example, if your photo was used to create a meme, it may be fair use as a parody.

You may be owed damages, but understand that without a legal U.S. copyright on the media, your actual damages will probably be limited. There are sites like Copyrighted.com where you can obtain a free copyright, which may at least put a timestamp on it, but be aware these poor-man's copyrights don't afford the same protections as a legal copyright from the government, which can get spendy.

Stahle notes that you automatically have copyright, and while a great many things play into how easy it is to enforce, you do have the right to do so.

If you've been the victim of copyright infringement, you can purchase Stahle's guide, Eep! Someone's stolen my content!, which gives you a step-by-step outline to calmly and rationally dealing with it yourself. If you find it once, you should should do a Google image search (click the camera to upload or link) or use TinEye to see if it's used anywhere else.

If you run into roadblocks, you may also want to contact a copyright attorney in your area. As Stahl notes, "there is power in attorney letterhead." Many give free consultations and they may even work on contingency (meaning you pay only minimal legal fees unless they win your case).

More on photo sharing and social media safety

Best photography blogs for moms
Social media safety tips while traveling
Statistics about teens and social media use

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