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Return to copy-protect-images.com How To Copy Protect Images - The Best Methods Of Copy Protection For Images
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The Top Methods For Copy Protecting Images On Web Pages

This section describes the prevention of search engines and site grabbers from locating your images.

8. Search & Spider Prevention 2 star image protection
It's pointless trying to protect images if everyone one of then can be located remotely by search engines spidering from your home page. So the first thing to do before anything else, is ensure that your images do not turn up in the results of any search engine results for images.

Theoretically the use of a robots.txt file can be used to tell search engines not to spider certain files and folders. This file can be created by using Notepad and placed into the root of your web site. The fist thing most search engines look for on your web site is a robots.txt file before proceeding. The following describes the contents of a robots.txt file that tells them not to use the "images" folder in their indexing.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /images/

The asterisk (*) means that it applies to all search engines. An alternative is to list each search engine but that's overkill and you do really need to include them ALL. Ok, now that  part is done, if you really want to prevent ages from showing up in search results, don't rely on the robots.txt file at all because not all search engines are friendly and if anything, providing a list of your sensitive folders to all and sundry is about the least cool idea of all.

The following tags can be used to prevent pages from being indexed and indexed though:

Meta tag for search engines - no index

The first rule to employ is... do not provide a clear path from your home page to the images concerned. Ok, so that's not easy to do without some clever scripting because unless your protected pages are located within a member only section that requires a log-in, then it will be most difficult not to link your home page to your protected pages. Otherwise your visitors may never find them.

For this obscurity many recommend encrypting the html and web pages, but that's useless because site grabbers and search engines use web browser resources to load the pages for spidering. But some tricks can be employed to sort the spiders from the web browsers by detecting what they are supporting. For example not many search engines have JavaScript enabled and almost none will support cookies.

A huge trap for search engines is to write a cookie on page load to record the session ID of the user. Every web server tracks users by assigning them a unique session identifier. That ID remains current until the end of the session when they leave the site or a time out after a period of inactivity. Then as each page loads it first reads the cookie and checks to see if there is a a match between the recorded session ID and the current one. If the "visitor" cannot read and write cookies you have detected them and can now do whatever you like with them. For example redirect them to an error page, or not show the content.

The second rule is to not assume that anyone is honest. There are thousands upon thousands of web servers spidering web sites looking for all sorts of content to borrow or steal, and some may be using cookie enabled browsers. However most use an out-of-the-box solution that can be detected from their user-agent. Ok, so user-agents can be tampered with but by now you know more about the enemy. For any copy protection solution to be effective, it needs a combination of things because on the Internet you are exposed from many different angles.

Some webmasters have devised complex solutions for not only detecting all manner of search spiders and site grabbers, but can watch them live to see where they come in and where they go. Pondering about how some search engines find web pages that are unlinked and only known to you can be enlightening.

See the Link Protection and HTML Encryption sections for some more ideas.


Return to the image protection techniques list



The above mentioned methods for copy protecting images deal with images that are displayed online, from a web page. These methods are not suitable for images that you may want to send by email or provide as a download. For example, if sending an image to a client for their approval of your design, then the options for protecting the image are reduced to:

  1. Using the watermarking tool above to copy protect the image..
  2. Sending the image encapsulated in a secure document format like CopySafe PDF.
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If this is your image then you can deliver the full sized version with watermark to an email address of your choice.