Taking a screenshot while browsing the internet is a common activity that most users do from time to time. Since most websites are public and their content can be accessed freely, there are no restrictions regarding copying information or taking snapshots of the site’s visual look.
Still, users are aware that websites closely follow what the visitors do and which pages they visit. Within the same paradigm, it’s logical to ask the question of whether a website can detect when one of its pages is being recorded. After all, the content belongs to the site owners so it would be reasonable to expect they know who is snipping it, or would it?
The answer is not completely straightforward and depends on the type of website from which you are extracting images or videos, so this topic deserves a bit more space to discuss in-depth and provide a nuanced answer that reflects the truth.
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In a typical case, a website will register the IP address of every visitor and keep track of the visited pages and the elements that were interacted with.
These will leave a trace in the website’s database. Such information is typically aggregated, but can also be viewed in a more granular manner to understand how individual users are acting during their time on the site.
On the other hand, an average website doesn’t control any mechanism that would allow it to detect what the visitors are doing with third-party software and whether they are creating website screenshots while browsing. Since most websites don’t really care whether users are copying the pages (and some might even encourage it), they are happy to use a standard architecture that has no detection tools.
Among the relatively rare exceptions are websites that ask you to download some software. Such websites might have a way of tracking your actions taken with apps installed on your computer, so presumably, that could include screen recording activities as well. However, it’s questionable how much value the site’s owners could get from such trivial input and whether they are actually tracking it despite the possibility to do so.
The cases when websites actually deploy advanced software to prevent taking screenshots are usually related either to security issues or copyright infringement. Streaming services like Netflix or HBO Max are full of exclusive content and they want to avoid too much of it being freely copied, while some corporate portals are closed to outsiders and may contain trade secrets. Another type of software that tends to block screenshots are financial and banking apps, which are designed to restrict access to personal information and account numbers and thus see screenshots as a potential way to circumvent the restrictions and steal sensitive data.
While the websites mostly can’t see when you are snipping screenshots, it’s interesting to inquire whether the web browsers used to access online content can detect such actions. There is no doubt that browsers retain a lot of information and that includes the visited pages, but as it turns out they are not capable of noticing when the user hits the print screen button, either. In their default configuration, popular browsing apps such as Google Chrome or Safari are not equipped with this capacity.
There is a way to introduce this ability to your browser if you have a compelling reason:
This can actually be beneficial for the user, as it provides a convenient track record of all screenshots taken while on the web. At the very least, it’s prudent to be aware of the possible functions that you can add to your preferred browser through extensions, including those that might collect information about screenshots taken on the visited websites.
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From all of the above, it’s clear that a vast majority of websites don’t even attempt to monitor screen recording activity by the users as they have nothing to lose by it. On the other hand, sites that provide access to copyrighted images or videos are far more interested in learning about the recording habits of the visitors. Thus, some of them might deploy advanced software that will discover if the user is copying visual material by employing a screen recording app.
The exact mechanisms used by streaming sites or stock footage libraries might not be publically known, but it’s safe to assume that at least some digital media providers have them in place. Even if they detect screen recording, the companies in this industry are unlikely to take any action against the user unless the recording was used for commercial purposes. Recording the content of your screen so you can take a closer look at the image is one thing, but ripping videos from streaming platforms to sell them elsewhere is a serious offense that won’t go unpunished. That’s why counting on the naiveté of the site operators is probably a bad idea.
Which websites are most likely to track screenshot taking and screen recording?
Only websites that need to protect their online collections of media content might bother to inspect whether the users are grabbing images and videos. This includes TV stations, live streaming websites, online content distribution platforms, and other sites whose business model depends on media sharing.
Can I copy the content of an entire web page without its owner noticing?
Most screen-grabbing apps allow you to quickly copy the content of an entire page without having to scroll down or make multiple screenshots. Using this method, you can literally keep everything you see on a website as a single image and the operators won’t even detect what you are doing.
Can websites track down users who illegally record original videos without permission?
Since the websites collect information about your IP address which can be tied to a physical location, it wouldn’t be very hard to find users who are systematically recording protected materials. While this rarely happens in practice, the software tools needed to find the offenders are not very complex.
While website operators closely follow where you go while you are online, they lack the tools to detect how you are using third-party apps on your computer. Thus, when you activate a screenshot function and save an image or video from an online source, this won’t trigger any automated responses or get you in any kind of trouble. Only those websites that sell access to high-end multimedia are likely to detect screenshot tools use, and even they don’t really care unless you plan on starting a business based on pilfered media content.