Most websites will have unique images that they would be annoyed or upset to find other people and sites using without permission. Are your images protected to stop this? Probably not. Basically, its impossible to stop people taking a copy of your images if they really want to – but the good news is we can make it harder for them to do it.
Lets talk about what is happening here:
When you put something on a web page and a visitor views that page, you have allowed that content to be uploaded to their computer – while in no sense putting it in the public domain and giving up the copyright you hold over the image, you have allowed them to get a physical copy of your content. Once they have viewed your webpage, they have a copy of your image – in cold reality, the only way to stop people from taking a copy of your content is not to put it on the Internet in the first place.
The simplest way for a thief to take a copy of your image that you can’t stop is to do a screen dump of your page, but think about it – when someone does this, they get the grainiest, lowest quality copy possible. This isn’t something we need to be concerned about; these aren’t usable images that people can establish a good reputation with – its a low quality image and hard to make a good use of.

Someone who knows a little more about what they are doing will right click on your image to save a copy direct from your server – Internet Explorer 6 actually facilitates this by default – when a IE6 user mouses over your image they get a toolbar that will help them to save the image. Right click saving will provide a good quality image, and this is something we can start to do something about.
Some people will tell you to disable that right click menu, but I will tell you right now two good reasons not to do it that way:
1. You are making your site less accessible by taking away the other items in the right-click menu, preventing legitimate visitors from actually using your site and possibly making them angry.
2. It doesn’t work. This technique only works in Windows Internet Explorer, and your skilled thief will smile at your ignorance, change browsers and right click-save on your image anyway.
It does make sense to include code to stop the IE6 image toolbar from appearing – why appear to encourage people to take your images? The markup to include in your page to do this is:
<meta http-equiv=”imagetoolbar” content=”no”>

If its poor practice to disable the right-click menu, how do we stop people from taking our images with a right-click save?
One technique is to add a see-through gif to the page that appears when the mouse hovers over the image for a right click. The visitors will see through the transparent gif to the original image, but the right click-save will only save the invisible image. This is very confusing for your average thief. (We’ll pause here while you join me in a mutual ‘hehehe’)

Unfortunately, this technique won’t stop the thief who is just that little bit more knowledgeable, who looks at your page source and gets the actual path to your image and loads it directly into the browser, to use the browser save function.
But we can stop that too.
We can set our webserver so that only requests for images that come from your webpage will be obeyed, ie only your web pages will be able to load your images. This is also an excellent technique if some one were stealing your bandwidth by putting your images on their site direct from your website, an all too common affair. And will this work?
Lets go back to one of the first things mentioned above – when you put something on your website, a copy is downloaded to your visitor’s computer for viewing. The clever, really determined thief will be able to get a copy from the cached copy you have already allowed to be downloaded to their computer and you won’t be able to do a thing to stop them. But the less clever, not quite so determined thieves? With the above techniques we can stop them in their tracks.
This article examined various techniques to protect images on your website, and determined which are useful and which are not. You can’t stop thieves from taking copyrighted images from your website, but you can make it harder for them.