Just the other day we had a new customer inquire about the safety of her images which she has loaded in her account. While I did not talk to her direct I saw the transcript from her live chat session with one of our customer service people and I thought that this is a topic worth bringing up, especially for those a little tentative about uploading their artwork to a website which they may not be familiar with.
First let me be clear that images you see displayed on any web site are not secure. Sure there are techniques you can do to make an image more difficult to access and download but the most carefully crafted method is almost laughable for anyone with just a small amount of html knowledge. This is why any credible gallery based site should only display low resolution or web viewable versions and keep the high resolution files they print from the public. While in some cases you could get a relatively decent small wallet size print from these web viewable versions, anyone stealing them off of a website and trying to make even a fair reproduction on canvas or fine art paper is going to be sorely disappointed.
Second your images are being downloaded. For instance, if you have an online gallery or personal website, or even facebook page in which your artwork is displayed, anyone browsing those pages are downloading your images and storing them. They may not even know this but most web browsers such as Safari, Chrome, FireFox and Internet Explorer save these files in a termporary location on the person's hard drive. This is to speed up the loading of the page later on when that person revisits the page.
As for a watermark, which is usually something like a partially transparent text or graphic partially covering the image, there are three views on this. Some despise the notion of having their artwork or photography covered by a watermark , others won't even think of displaying an image online without a watermark and even other people could care less. I think those that don't like it see it as both detracting from the image and making it less sellable as a print. Personally I prefer the watermark option but even a watermarked image can be Photoshopped to remove the watermark.
Because of these security concerns I think it is important to share with our customers some "inside baseball" about their images and what we do to protect them. Dealing with an online service can be relatively new for some people and when that online service asks you to upload valuable image files then it's a good idea to know what's happening behind the scenes.
It's important to know your high resolution images files are not accessible via the public so you don't have to worry about people downloading them. Nor do we permanently store them on our website so if someone even wanted to try to get to them they would not have access to your high resolution files.
When it comes to uploading your files we actually have two places you can upload. One is called "Ready to Print" which is what we designate files being used for ordering and the other is My Images which allows you to display and archive your artwork for future orders. In both instances two low resolution copies of your high resolution image is generated and placed in a special location so they can be viewed on the site in relation to an order you are placing. Your original high resolution image is deleted after it is copied over to a "super top secret location" which only myself and a few key people know of. And even then we can't access them unless we provide the secret knock (encrypted credentials for the more tech minded). Our production software will download these high resolution images after supplying the secret knock only if an order is placed.
So with all this having been said what should you do to make sure your images are protected. If you join a gallery based site which also offers prints like we do or they resell your images for you as stock make sure you ask them what protocols they have in place to protect your high resolution image files. If you are setting up a personal website somewhere make sure only smaller web viewable versions are visible. I won't name the company but we even had a competing canvas printing company download and post some of promotional graphics we designed to display on their own site. If people like what they see assume they will try to download it so if the place you are posting your images for people to view is not generating smaller web viewable versions, go elsewhere. In the end you have to choose if you want to make your artwork available for people to see and appreciate online.