11 Free Copyright Tools for Photographers and Artists

If you’re a photographer or artist, whether a professional or a casual uploader, protecting your images from copyright infirngement is important.

Simply put, images are among the most commonly misused types of content on the Web, especially since many use Google Images as if it were a stock photo library, despite clear warnings that images may be copyrighted.

And the image use isn’t just limited to people wanting stock photos for their blog or Myspace profile. There have been several cases of photos posted online being used in billboards and advertisements across the world without permission.

So, if you post photos online, it is likely worthwhile to take a moment and make sure that they are protected. However, this protection doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money, in fact, it doesn’t have to cost you anything.

With that in mind, here are 11 free Web-based tools in 5 different categories to help you keep your images safe.

1. Non-Repudiation Tools

Once you’ve created an image, whether a painting or a photograph, proving that you own it can be one of the hardest things you might have to do. Fortunately, there are several free copyright verification services that can help you out.

  1. Myows: Myows is an attractive and easy-to-use verification service that also provides basic infringement case management.
  2. Safe Creative: Safe Creative is a powerful copyright-verification tool that is widely used by musicians but works with any content type, including images.
  3. MyFreeCopyright: Finally, MyFreeCopyright is a bare-bones but simple copyright verification service that lets you upload images (or other content) and get certificates of registration.

None of the services above are meant to be replacements for the U.S. Copyright Office, which is the only official registrar of copyrights. However, if you are not located within the U.S. or simply want more immediate verification of ownership, these services can offer an invaluable asset.

2. EXIF Editing

While external validation of ownership is great, you most likely want a verification of ownership in the image itself. Fortunately, the JPG standard has a metadata format entitled EXIF which allows creators to embed information into the image for easy viewing later.

Unfortunately, editing this information can be tricky at times, especially since most of it is added automatically by the camera with no recognition of who is taking the image.

However, EXIF remover has a tool that lets you edit your EXIF data, adding copyright, artist, date, time and other relevant information to your image’s EXIF data.

Sadly, the process is somewhat tedious, requiring you to upload one image at a time, up to 1 MB per image, But if you require batch processing you may wish to use Geosetter, which is a downloadable application for Windows that provides that functionality for free.

3. Watermarking

One of the best ways to protect your image is to overlay a visible watermark on top of it. This, however, is a tricky art requiring skill in placing a mark opaque enough to be visible and central enough to not easily be cropped out, but still be out of the way and not ruin the image.

Though there are several image watermarking services, three of the most popuar and free solutions are:

  1. Watermark.ws: The free account allows users to upload five images under 500 KB each and watermark with either text or an image. Also has features to resize and compress images. Can also do tiled watermarks.
  2. PicMarkr: Allows uploading through Flickr, Facebook and Picasa. Can provide text, image or tiled watermarks.
  3. Watermark Tool: Allows the upload of up to 5 images under 200 KB each and lets users add a text watermark. The pro account adds image watermarks, unlimited images per batch and a larger image size.

Though these services can’t replace downloadable image editors for watermarking, at least not for free, they are great for “quick and dirty” watermarks, especially when you are on the go and away from your main computer.

4. Reverse Image Search

Once you’ve done what you can to protect your image, you probably want to track it and see who is using it. Fortunately, Tineye is a reverse image search engine that can do exactly that.

With Tineye, you simply upload your image or point Tineye to the URL where it can be found on the Web and it seeks out duplicates of that image on the Web, including near matches that have been cropped, recolored, scaled, etc.

The technology works amazingly well though the database is still a bit limited at this time. However, it does cover 1.5 billion images and is growing very rapidly.

5. Stopping Abuse

Once you’ve found an image that’s being misused, the next step is to put a stop to it. You can easily find a stock cease and desist letter or stock DMCA notice on this site so that you can notify the infringer or their host of the misuse and demand removal.

If you need help determining who the host is, WhoIsHostingThis is a great, simple tool for determining who the host of any given site is. Bear in mind though that the tool is not 100% accurate and you may wish to verify the results with Domain Tools or a similar service.

Bottom Line

In the end, if you produce images for the Web, you need to know how to protect them and you need tools like the ones above to help you do that.

The misuse of images on the Web is rampant, at least as widespread as the infringement of text in many circles, and that is making it more critical than ever for artists of all stripes to take extra precautions to protect their work.

Fortunately, while that protection doesn’t always come cheap, it often comes free. If you know where to look you can find professional, Web-based services to help you protect, track and enforce your content without paying a dime out of pocket.

Considering how little time it takes and how great the risks are, it is well worth the effort to make sure your images are well cared for.

Disclosure: I am a paid consultant for Myows and a paid blogger for WhoIsHostingThis.

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