All the ways to prevent image theft in WordPress: Easy guide

Don't let people take and use your website or blog photos

Have you ever found your blog or website images used on another website? Is someone copying and using your images? Protect images in WordPress and prevent people taking them and using them.

It is annoying when you put a lot of time and effort into creating great images for your blog or website and someone comes along and simply takes them. It is so easy for people to copy images from websites and use them on their own site without your permission.

Great images not found anywhere else on the web are interesting to Google and help with SEO. If your images turn up on multiple sites because they have been copied, they are no longer unique and therefore are less interesting to Google when working out search ranking.

There are several ways to prevent images from being stolen and used on other websites and it can be done with or without code and plugins. Some methods are more effective than others, but there is no reason why you cannot use more than one method.

If someone is really determined to steal your WordPress website’s images, they will find a way around all the techniques here. For example, computers and phones all have screenshot functions that capture the whole screen and save it. It is then an easy task to load the screenshot into a photo editor and cut out and save the image. There is no way for a WordPress site to block a basic function built into a computer or phone.

Many potential thieves are put off by simple protection methods and after trying the most obvious ways to copy an image and failing, they will give up. They will just find another site to copy images from. So, although you cannot prevent image copying by everyone, you can stop most people.

Warn people that images are copyright

Most people are honest and will not steal your website images if they are asked not to. A simple message somewhere on the page, such as in the footer, can tell people that the images on your site are copyright, you are the owner and that they should not be used anywhere else.

Example of copyright and watermark in a photo
Copyright and watermark example in a photo. (c) R.Waddilove, do not copy.

Text in the page footer may be missed, so a more obvious place to show it is to add a copyright notice to the end of each image caption, like “Photo of a blue hummingbird, (c) Bob Smith.”

Some people do not realize that they are not allowed to use images from another website. There is a common belief among bloggers that if the original site an image was taken from is given credit, then it is OK. Simply telling them that it is not OK is often sufficient to stop them.

Prevent hotlinking to images

Some people will download images from your site and save them to their computer. They then upload them to their own website and use them. Other people hotlink, which means that when they want to use an image of yours, they insert the URL you use. For example, if an image on your site is at www.site.com/wp-content/uploads/pic.jpg, they use that URL for the image on their site.

The result is that you end up supplying the images for other websites, which uses your site’s bandwidth. It can lead to higher web hosting bills because you are effectively providing image hosting for everyone that is hotlinking.

Hotlink protection in Cloudflare
Cloudflare and some other CDNs provide hotlink protection

One simple way to prevent hotlinking of images in WordPress is to use Cloudflare, which is one of the most popular CDNs. The main aim of a content delivery network is to speed up websites, but there are other benefits. Log into Cloudflare, click your site, click Scrape Shield at the end of the toolbar and then simply turn on Hotlink Protection. Click the Help link in the corner for some important information about it.

Some other CDNs also have this feature. Some WordPress security plugins have it too. For example, there is an option in the settings of All In One WP Security & Firewall plugin to block hotlinking.

Use a weird image format to prevent theft

You can prevent people from downloading your images and uploading them to their own site by using an unsupported file format. For example, WebP images. As this article reveals, Improve website speed by using more compact WebP images, WordPress has no problem using WebP images (images in this article are WebP), but only after it has been configured to do so. Without the configuration tweak, images are rejected if you try to upload them to WordPress, which will confuse people trying to use your images.

WebP images are highly optimized to make file sizes as small as possible to speed up page loading, so they are good to use anyway. Preventing image theft is a bonus.

Watermark image to prevent theft

Adding text to an image like a photo to identify you as the owner will not prevent someone from taking it, but it is really obvious that it has been stolen if they use it anywhere. With “(c) Bob Smith” or something similar in the image, most people will not use it.

The text does not have to be large, that might ruin a good photo, and a small copyright notice just big enough to be readable is all that is required. If the text is along an edge or in a corner, it could be cropped out by the thief so it is not perfect.

A watermark is text that is large enough to covers a significant part of the image, but it is almost transparent. This can easily be added in a photo editor by adding a new layer with text, then setting the layer transparency to 10 or 20% so it is barely visible.

Use a plugin to prevent image theft

All the methods to protect images in WordPress so far are useful, but if you want to take this a step further then a plugin can help. There are several to choose from and they disable right click on images. Right clicking (PC) or Ctrl+clicking (Mac) displays a menu and in the case of mages on web pages, one of the menu options is Save. Right/Ctrl+clicking is the easiest and most obvious way to steal an image, so disabling it protects images from theft.

There are many WordPress plugins that prevent image theft, so how do you choose a good one? The number of users a plugin has is a good indication of its usefulness and quality. Choosing choosing popular plugins is a good strategy.

You should also choose plugins that have been updated fairly recently and have been tested with the latest version of WordPress. Some plugins are one or even two years old and have not been tested with the last three versions of WordPress. That does not mean they will not work and they might, but it is safer to pick recently updated and tested plugins.

The star ratings in the WordPress plugins library is another useful indicator. Look at the number of 1-star ratings and read the reviews.

After looking at a dozen or more plugins and disregarding the low usage, low rated, untested, out of date ones, these stood out from the rest:

WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click

This WordPress plugin has the most users at 100k and a lot of 5-star reviews. There are free and premium versions and the freebie will be sufficient for most people. As soon as it is installed and activated, right or Ctrl clicking anywhere on your site is disabled. This makes it impossible to access menu options to copy or save images.

WP Content Copy Protection WordPress plugin to prevent image theft
A good range of features for preventing image theft in WordPress

Most of the settings are straightforward and you can choose whether to disable right clicking on posts, pages or the home page. Two methods are available, JavaScript and CSS, and both are enabled by default, but I found it worked with just CSS. (Some people browse with JavaScript off.)

It is easy to see why this plugin is the most popular and it has useful features for free and a a lot of advanced features in the Pro version.

Secure Content Copy Protection and Content Locking

This copy protection plugin has fewer users at 10k, but for people that want to configure every last detail, it is a good one to choose. It stands out because of the number of settings it has and there are dozens of them.

Secure Content Copy Protection and Content Locking WordPress plugin
The number of configuration options make this plugin good for experts

You can enable or disable right and left mouse clicks and numerous keyboard shortcuts individually. You can edit the message that is displayed when someone right clicks images and an audio message can even be uploaded and played if you want. The message can be displayed only once or every time and there is complete customization of the appearance.

It has many more general content blocking features too.

WP Content Copy Protection with Color Design

With only 8k users, this is least popular plugin in my list, but not the least popular in the WordPress plugins by a long way. There are many with far fewer and some with only 10 users, so 8k is still quite good.

WP Content Copy Protection with Color Design WordPress plugin
Simple settings make this image theft plugin easy to use

This plugin is worth looking at because it is a lot simpler than some of the other copy protection plugins and this means you don’t have to be a tech expert to understand it. Other plugins block everything, at least in their free versions, but this one provides more choice.

Images and text are treated separately, which means right clicking images can be blocked so they cannot be saved, but text can still be selected and copied normally. Both can be blocked if you prefer. Copy protection can be disabled for logged in users or just the admin.

All posts and pages can be copy protected except the ones you specify, or copy protection can be disabled everywhere except for the posts and pages you specify. This is useful if you need to protect some posts and pages, but not all of them.

This plugin is simpler than the others and at first sight, it looks like it has fewer options. However, the features it has are far more useful. It has just what you need for protecting your WordPress content and is recommended.

Final thoughts

None of these methods and plugins will prevent someone who is really determined and technically knowledgeable to steal the photos from your website and there are always ways to get around the blocks put in place. However, they do stop the majority of would-be thieves and so they are worth it.

Beware that plugins can present visitors with problems because they prevent right clicking everywhere. One of the things I like to do is to right click links and open them in a new tab so I don’t leave the current page. I can’t with these plugins. Some people may want to right click and access other menu options like having a page read aloud, to print it or translate it. Disable right click and they can’t.

All these useful functions are blocked when you block the right (PC) or Ctrl (Mac) click menu. Blocking browser functions protects your content, but irritates people that require them. Think carefully about the benefits and drawbacks before installing a plugin. Copyright notices, WebP images and image watermarks will irritate visitors far less.

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About Roland Waddilove 392 Articles
Roland Waddilove is interested in technology: Computers, phones, gadgets, software and internet. Long ago he worked on computer magazines, but is now mostly a tech writer for the web.