Plagiarism by the print media

Some tips to prevent your pictures from getting indexed by Google Images

I personally rely upon blogs for my source of information, and I often find them more useful than newspapers because blog posts are richly connected with links to other relevant information. With so much quality content freely available, its no wonder that the print media is increasingly sourcing, or stealing, stories, pictures and research from blogs.

In 2008, I was twice a victim of plagiarism, a different Indian newspaper on both occasions. I don’t know how many other incidents occurred after that because I no longer read Indian newspapers avidly. Mridula, one of my blogger friends from India who writes Travel Tales from India was a victim recently. India’s leading national newspaper, The Hindustan Times, stole her picture, cropped the copyright out and published it. Now that they have been caught, they are pleading innocence.

Where do these journalists get their images from? Google images and Flickr are the favorite sites of internet picture pirates. Google Images is an excellent example of how a wonderful tool can be abused. Google images indexes all images it comes across, and makes them publically searchable. Unfortunately this makes people lazy and temps them to steal images.

Here are some tricks I use to reduce the chances of my pictures getting stolen.

1. Removing an image from Google’s index

[From Google Webmaster Help]
I simply ask Google robots NOT to index any image from my website. To do that, you need to edit your robots.txt file.
To remove all the images on your site from Google Images index, add the following directive to your robots.txt file:

User-agent: Googlebot-Image
Disallow: / 

While this is a guaranteed method, it can be used only by bloggers who control their own servers. For the rest, here’s a workaround that might work.

2. Discouraging Image Alternative Text (ALT tag)

When you add an image to your post through blogger or wordpress, you will be asked to input “Alternate Text” for your image. That’s what I am talking about. First, lets understand why the ALT text is used.

In HTML, the ALT attribute (called Alternative Text) of your IMG (image) tag is used to record alternate text for your picture. This feature is very useful for accessibility based browsing (e.g. for vision-impaired users) or in case your image becomes unavailable. ALT tag was historically used for search engine optimization (SEO) but now thankfully Google ranks it quite low. So the significance of ALT tag has drastically reduced.

So I say, get rid of the habit of filling the ALT tag with useful keywords. For example, in the picture above, I’d have ALT tagged it “Machu Picchu, Inca ruins, Peru”, but now I simply say “image” or “[machu]123(pic chu)” or something like that. That way, you still follow XHTML 1.1 strict compliance, display a somewhat meaningful text in case your image is missing, AND prevent the search engines from indexing your picture in a useful way.

3. Change image file name

Simply call your pictures “4334.jpg” instead of “machu-picchu.jpg”. Remember, the lesser the keywords the search engine sees, the less likely it is going to index your picture prominently.

4. Use a big copyright symbol

Very effective, but aesthetically unpleasant. I refrain from doing that.

None of the above methods have any real impact on the overall page ranking of your website. So go ahead, try them. 🙂