Protecting Website Content

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More often than you can imagine we are asked a question during the process of website design that goes something like this: “We want to post images, videos, and text but we don’t want anyone to be able to copy our website’s content – Can we protect this but still make it public?

Saving / Copying Website ImageThe Quick Answer to Content Scraping and Copying

Assume that anything that you post online that is made visible to the public (i.e. not hidden behind a login or a paywall) can be copied, scraped, ripped, downloaded or otherwise taken from your website’s pages with relative ease. This includes but isn’t limited to YouTube videos, images, text on pages, file downloads, etc… Protecting website content seems like a gargantuan task given that some of the culprits responsible for ripping off images, information, and media aren’t event located in the same continent or subject to the same intellectual property laws.

Strategies for Protecting Website Content

By virtue of design, the interaction between browsers and websites create opportunities for anyone to copy content but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t upload anything at all (otherwise nothing worthwhile would get posted). After all, the raison d’être of your public website is to serve your visitors and your customer base.

In our years of experience with website design, we’ve complied some basic strategies that can help you slow down or think differently about how you move content from your desktop to your website as well as protecting your website content:

Preventing Image CopyingRight-click scripts and fancy search-engine-unfriendly Flash approaches to keep images out of the hands of those who would dare to copy your page content are only effective against the most primitive of users. We’ve also seen a wide variety of CSS layering and other creative techniques but these seem to cause more problems that they solve with respect to browser availability. The best solution that we have found is to ensure that complex (but discrete) watermarks are placed on images either automatically or manually such that uploaded images would require a great deal of Photoshop manipulation if a visitor wanted to remove them for nefarious purposes.
Videos & Video StreamingWhen it comes to displaying videos on your website, most often the fastest and widest reaching choices tend to be automatic YouTube or Vimeo embedding. With automatic device detection and smooth content buffering, these services are the most commonly used approaches to delivering video media to website visitors however the downside with these services is that anything posted on YouTube or Vimeo can be ripped with the right set of tools.  If you’re looking at protecting website content that features video feeds, using free public streaming services isn’t the right solution.
Text & ContentTo facilitate search engine crawling and to ensure that accessibility tools can navigate your website, we don’t recommend taking steps to obfuscate text content. Just as with images on pages, right-click scripts are easily circumvented (you can literally turn JavaScript off in your browser session if you wanted to get around those types of scripts easily or you can even highlight content and use a keyboard shortcut to copy text). If you’re posting great quality, customer-oriented content, then your objective should be to enable its dissemination to the greatest extent possible so instead of taking the perspective of fighting off droves of invisible and often automated content copiers, your efforts are likely better spent on getting more eyeballs on your content. Syndication isn’t necessarily a bad thing if your content is being recognized by search engines as the origin and regardless of your efforts to protect your content with third copy protection party services there will also be other websites and illicit content farms that will attempt to rip off your website’s text (very often hosted from data centers well outside legal jurisdictions that add additional complexity to DMCA take-down requests).

To summarize, the inherent nature of the web today is about publishing, distributing, indexing, and finding information. Steps taken to try and prevent one or more in the interesting of protecting website content against scraping or copying can incur unintended consequences (whether it be unintentionally making it difficult for visitors to use your website or even raise red flags with search engines as some of these techniques can be misconstrued by search crawlers as black hat or spam-oriented in nature).

Watermark your images (and even your videos), write great content, and make your website reflect the quality and authority of what you have to say.