Guarding Against Image Theft

26 Jun

One of the well-founded fears of the digital arts community is theft by plagiarism.  A great deal of the time it’s relatively minor. Something you created turns up as a t-shirt for sale out of Russia.  At other times, the theft is amazing in its scope and brazen lack of shame.  Just Google the Art4Love scandal and Chad Love Leibermann (Warning: hundreds of artists were defrauded, they are angry and some of the language in certain postings is beyond graphic).

There’s really no point in reposting the full story in the Art 4 Love scandal.  A few professional journalists have written articles on the subject. If you’re interested in the gory details, we suggest you go here:

or here:

Obviously, this kind of activity scares the bejeebers out of the legion of creative individuals who elect to post their work on the internet.  For these members of Robert Heinlein’s “fretful minority”, the internet remains the most effective and affordable tool for soliciting business and marketing one’s work.  Despite the obvious risks, artists are neither deserting the net or restraining their postings.  So, for the sake of argument let’s say you are beset with the creative affliction, now how do you guard against appropriation of your art?

The first thing any artist should avoid is posting high-resolution images.  It’s a tempting trap.  You want your potential client to see accurate representations of your work. But once an image is posted to the web it can be acquired.  Often the image can be saved simply by dragging it to your desktop or right-clicking and choosing “save image as”. As a safeguard, some artists like to post Acrobat files and restrict print permissions.  The catch with this approach is Acrobat can be hacked.  Adobe even posts a warning in their security settings for Acrobat Pro.


Making your image smaller sounds like it should do the trick, right?  Wrong!  Reduced file size is only one/third of the answer.  There are quite a few tools available that specialize in image interpolation (a fancy term for making something small, large).  Photoshop is probably the most commonly known, but this list includes Paintshop Pro, Gimp, Genuine Fractals, Photo Zoom Pro, etc… The marketplace is littered with a number of up sampling tools and tricks.  And these tools and tricks are just as available to the professional plagiarist as they are to the honest artisan.

The next step is to compress the color information.  For the sake of brevity (there’s a few different ways to display images on the web) let’s confine this to jpeg compression.  Jpeg is short for Joint Photographic Experts Group.  This method of image compression was first developed as a way to control file size for the CTP, or computer to plate, workflow.  It compresses a digital color image by transforming color values within a certain range to the same value.  The more aggressive the level of compression, the more color values are grouped together. Jpeg is often described as a lossy compression.

For more information concerning lossy and lossless compression refer to this Wikipedia entry:

Let’s work through an example of image compression.  This is a piece BPI designed for Jack’s Pizza.


As you can see it’s rather large.  The first step is to reduce the size of the graphic to something that will fit on an average web browser window.  Just for giggles will use the average monitor display size of 1024×768 pixels. In monitor display parlance, 1024 works out to 14.222 inches wide when calculated at 72 pixels per inch. This handles the first part of the challenge; now, let’s add compression.


We’re obviously being rather aggressive with this setting. Just remember, this image is only for the purpose of display on the average computer monitor.  This image is not for reproduction, which is the whole point.

Our image has been down-sized and compressed.  But, it still looks fine on our monitor.  Let’s take a closer look.  Notice the blocky appearance of this portion of the image and the odd halo’s in the white area (see Before on the top and After on the bottom).  These are called “artifacts” in digital lingo.  Now, you have an image that looks great on the web but which will print poorly if someone elects to steal it, print a pile of posters for sale and add their own signature.

Before             After

There’s one more thing you can do. But, let’s save watermarks for next time.


One Response to “Guarding Against Image Theft”


  1. Guarding Against Image Theft: Part 2, The Watermark | BPI Inc. - August 6, 2013

    […] reproduction and/or image theft.  For the nightmare scenario on image theft, check out our previous blog entry on this […]

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