How To Protect Photos From Being Copied.

I want to protect a photo from being copied. The answer wasn’t as straight forward as I thought, but I did find the answer.

Below is the process I used to get what I needed.

The first thing I need to point out is wanting to protect a digital copy of a photo, not a physical copy of a photo.

Okay, so how to protect a digital photo from being copied is not an easy question to answer. My first thought is the medium I plan to use for sending my digital photo to someone.

  • Do I offer a download link?
  • Do I send them a digital copy on a storage device like a portable hard drive or USB flash drive?
  • Do I provide them a weblink to view the file from a hosted server?

It seems the more I thought about a delivery method – the more questions I had.

My first thought was to host the photo on a private webpage. Only users with access to the page could view the photo.

This doesn’t work. I realized once the viewer is on the page viewing the photo they can save the photo or screen grab the photo. Once that is done, they could share the digital photo with anyone they wanted. Not much protection here.

My next idea was putting the digital photo in a zip file that was password protected. Yes, that’s a good idea. Only someone who knows the password can view the photo.

Oh wait, that doesn’t work either. I end up with the same problem as the hosted webpage. Once the file is accessed, the user can do anything they want.

So it dawns on me… I keep falling back to an encryption solution, not a copy protection solution. Encryption is good because only those with the correct password can access the photo, but different than my ultimate goal, which is copy protect a digital photo and prevent it from being copied.

I guess you can say encryption is a way of keeping the honest people… well, honest.

I need a way to protect my photo regardless of the intent of the recipient. I figured out I need a solution that everyone can see the photo, but no one can do anything with the photo. Is such a solution even possible?

Speaking with a neighbor who’s an IT guy he suggested a concept I’ve heard of before, but didn’t apply to my thinking. He suggested a type of physical dongle that held the photo, rather than a digital method of sending the photo. He explained, without the physical device, make it impossible to view the photo.

The lightbulb went on!

The least expensive “dongle” that has memory to hold my photo, is a USB flash drive. With this new approach to solving my problem, I Googled “copy protect a flash drive” and sure enough a solution presented itself.

I found a “Copy Secure” flash drive which offers copy protection for digital photos. The solution copy protects other files as well, like MP3 audio, MP4 video, PDF files and even HTML pages. But I digress…

The Copy Secure drive will encrypt my digital photo to the USB stick. During the encryption process some other files are included which allows the file to be opened. The files are a PCViewer.exe and These standalone programs are the secure viewer program to see the photo, while at the same time blocking a user from copying the photo or screen capture of the photo. Perfect, this is just what I needed.

But what if someone deletes the photo off the USB stick and calls me up asking for another copy? Isn’t that a form of getting a duplicate copy without paying for it?

Here is the nice part, a Copy Secure drive locks itself after the photo is loaded to the USB stick. This means the flash drive is read-only and the file cannot be deleted or formatted off the drive. Okay, so this really is secure.

The PCViewer is a program which runs directly from the flash drive and a Windows computer user will use to access the file. The MacViewer is a program a Mac user will use to access the photo. Logical. Simple.

Yes, the file is encrypted but the difference with this type of encryption is that no one knows the password, only the PCViewer and MacViewer program know the password. Going further down the rabbit hole, only the PCViewer and MacViewer will run when the USB is authenticated as an official Copy Secure drive. Okay, now we are talking. My file is secure, the flash drive is secure and there is an authentication process before anything is displayed (my photo).

These programs detect screen capture software and close the applications before my photo is displayed. I understand a user could use a camera to take a picture of the photo on their monitor, but that never works. A moire pattern is formed between the parallel lines of the monitor and the camera’s grid so you always get a line affect and a poor quality photo. I can live with that.copy protect photo, moire pattern

Although I am not a professional photographer, it seems this form of copy protection is a perfect solution for those who make a living from digital photography. It gives the artist the freedom to share their work without the worry of illegal copies being made. Ultimately improving profits and reducing risks.