Protecting Your Auction Images

Simple solutions deter photo thieves.

by staff writer
- Aug 12, 2008

eBay prohibits the unauthorized use of product photos and logos—including copying pictures from another user's listings. Yet the e-commerce site is rife with lazy sellers who take the easy way out by "borrowing" images without permission.

You put a fair amount of time and effort into creating great photography for your online listings. Why not go the extra step to make sure your images aren't stolen right from your auction or store pages by those who are potentially your competitors?

There are several simple techniques you can use to protect your images: Some require significant additional investment, others are inexpensive or totally free. Auctiva's free image hosting service, for example, allows users to create custom watermarks for images on a one-by-one or universal basis.


A watermark is a visual image or line of text that's embedded somewhere in your photo. It's a common technique that has been used for years to deter forgery of currency and official documents. It can be just about anything from a company logo to a thin line across the image to a copyright symbol. The trick in auction photography is to make the mark conspicuous enough to deter copying without obscuring the item you're hoping to sell.

Professional and pricey photo-editing software programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter and Paint Shop incorporate the ability to create visual watermarks. Of these applications, Photoshop is probably more commonly used. The process is fairly simple and goes like this:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop and make any needed adjustments.
  2. Under the Layer pull-down menu, create a new layer.
  3. Within that layer, paste your logo or type in some text, whatever you want to use as your watermark.
  4. Ensure that the new layer is on top of the layer containing your original image.
  5. Reduce the new layer's opacity in the Layers palette to a level that balances image clarity and security (50-60% is a good rule of thumb, but let the appearance of the image you're working on guide you).
  6. Under the Layer pull-down menu, select the Flatten Image function, and then save the image.

Professional or high-end photo-editing software can run into the hundreds of dollars, and is probably overkill for the average or novice user. If you fall into one of these categories, consider using open-source or freeware applications, many of which are quite robust and—as the name suggests—can be downloaded for free.

Just type "free photo editor" into your favorite search engine and have at it. Look for applications like Serif PhotoPlus6 and that have advanced features like layering, and are both user-friendly and frequently updated.

Invisible barriers

A digital watermark is a special code woven into the image file that can't be seen, but can be detected by software

Here's a clever, if less-common, trick using a similar layering technique: Protect your image by "cloaking" it. Sounds all sci-fi and Star Trek-y, but there's no light bending and advanced degree in physics required here. It is a bit labor intensive, however, and involves some technical know-how.

Cloaking in this case involves using your HTML code to hide images behind a transparent GIF. To do this, place the original image on the page in a table or layer, then place a transparent GIF image the same size over the top. When someone right-clicks on the photo to download it to their computer, all they will get is the top picture, which is blank. So simple, and yet so sneaky.

A new-millenium take on the watermarking concept is digital watermarking—sometimes called digimarking. A digital watermark is a special code woven into the image file that can't be seen, but can be detected by software "readers" found in some image editing applications, such as Photoshop. When a digitally watermarked file is copied, the watermark is carried by the image, read by the image editing software and reported to a Web-based tracking system. The Web is full of software designed specifically for adding digimarks to your images. These can usually be found for in the neighborhood of $50 to $100. If you plan to put lots of pictures online, they are a relatively inexpensive add-on to your existing tool set.

At the source

Finally, if you are comfortable playing around with HTML source code, you can insert an instruction right into your page that disables the right-click "copy" and "save as" options altogether. Here's a solution offered by one eBay user. An easier way, however, would be to use Auctiva's free image hosting service and simply enable Image Protection under the Manage Images tab.

No image on the Web is completely safe from a truly determined and technically sophisticated photo hacker. But using some simple techniques, you can discourage the vast majority of would-be thieves-and protect not only your digital images, but your investment of time and effort in creating fabulous auction photography.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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