Why use reverse image search
Copyright and intellectual property thefts are amongst the most significant issues that photographers face today. In this age of social media, the perspective of many non-photographers is that an image on the Internet is free to use and share as you like. There is little regard to the fact that the image has both an owner and a value. The opposite to this, of course, is that the Internet is by far the most powerful tool photographers have at their disposal to market their images to a worldwide audience. To not use it is potential suicide for an aspiring professional, and the loss of a great learning resource for the enthusiast in the form of critics and image advice.
There are a number of ways to protect your images. You can watermark them; this, however, is not without its drawbacks. If you place a discrete watermark in the corner, it can be cropped; if you place a large one centrally on the image, it can seriously reduce the aesthetics, reducing your marketing impact. Also, copyright thieves are not deterred or even bothered by watermarks on images.
As a photographer, you should always embed your copyright details in your image. Many cameras allow you to add a basic copyright detail to the image’s EXIF data at the taking stage, but you should also make sure you add further details whenever you export an image. However, one of the issues with this is that many sites, particularly social media sites will strip this data out, leaving no trace of the original owner.
So what can we do once the horse has bolted? While we cannot close the stable doors, we can chase after the horse. To do this we can use a relatively new technology called Reverse Image Search.
Reverse image search engines
The two main reverse image search engines are Tineye, which is free but has additional premium facilities, and Google Images, which is entirely free. We will look at both, but it is this photographer’s opinion that Google Images is by far the more powerful of the two.
Tineye’s Search Page
When you go to the Tineye site, you will see two main options: “Upload your Image” and “Enter Image Address.” The first allows you to upload a picture from your hard drive after which Tineye will search through its database of images looking for an exact match. If it finds any, it will show the image and the webpage that is hosting that image.
The Enter Image Address tool works in a similar way but allows you to search a web page with multiple images to find uses of those images on other sites. While this is useful for searching multiple shots at one time, not all web pages will allow the Tineye search engine access to the images, so it is not 100% effective.
One tool Tineye provides is a plug-in for most modern browsers. This can speed up your image searches by allowing you to right-click on any image online and select “Search with Tineye.”
Google Images works in much the same way as Tineye but has the distinct advantage of having access to Google’s entire database, a massive and constantly updated resource. To do a reverse image search with Google, from their images page click on the camera icon in the search bar. This opens a window that, like Tineye, allows you to upload an image or paste in a URL.
When Google Images finds your images on websites, it presents the search results in much the same way as the standard Google search engine. Unlike Tineye, Google does not provide a lot of plug-in support for other browsers. There are third-party plug-ins, but these can be a little patchy. Google does, however, fully integrate its reverse image search into its Chrome browser. As with Tineye, right-clicking gives the option to search by image.
A typical Google results page
Of course it is very important to keep track of all your images online. If you sell your images through stock agencies, you need to monitor which ones have sold and, if possible, to whom. A reverse image search will show all uses of an image, whether sold or stolen, so it is important to verify the validity of an image use. If I find the use of an image that I am not sure about, rather than fire off an all-guns-blazing e-mail, I contact the site owner with a polite e-mail saying that I found my image on his site and was wondering from which agency he licensed it. For most situations, the website owners tell me where they bought the image, or if its being used illegally, they take it down.
Reverse Image Search is a powerful tool for the professional and enthusiast photographer alike. While it is virtually impossible to find every illegal use, it is possible to track a down a significant number of them. The more photographers that use this powerful facility, the better placed we are to educate the online world about the impact of copyright theft.