Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Google's new Search By Image: TinEye on Steroids!

I have written before about the wonderful TinEye and how it can be a very useful tool to both trace your own images across the web, and also to find possible conflicting uses when you are looking to use a stock image commercially. Well, now we have Google's new service, Search By Image.

If you use Chrome or Firefox as your browser, when you go to you should now see a little camera icon in the search box:

If you click on the camera icon you get a popup:

Where you can copy an image url, upload an image or even drag an image!

So I tried it out with one of my older images of Tuareg tribesmen in the Sahara, and clicked 'Search Images'.

Now here we are interested in the image results rather than the text results. If you click on "Find other sizes of this image: All sizes" you get:


If you roll over an image it shows you the website where it was found. The vast majority of these uses are unauthorised.

Also, back on the previous Google results page it shows 'Pages that include matching images'. This shows page after page after page of matches:

A lot of these results are blogs and personal pages, and probably not worth chasing up on copyright infringement (though it would be nice to at least get a credit and link to the original!) but if (among others) the rather fancy looking Montillon Hotel and Resorts:

...cannot produce a valid licensing agreement for this image, they are going to get a big bill for this unauthorised commercial use.

TinEye has been a useful tool for a while, and has indexed 2 billion images, but I would estimate that Google Images has around 10 billion images in their index. It is clear that Google's Search By Image tool is going to be extremely valuable in helping photographers find the companies which are using their images without permission or payment.

If any other photographers have some good examples of how Google's Search By Image has helped them track unauthorised uses of their images by companies, please add them to the comments section below.


  1. Be very careful:

    (Google image file search = rights grab?)

    "11. Content license from you

    11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content
    which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By
    submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual,
    irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to
    reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly
    display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or
    through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling
    Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked
    for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

    11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such
    Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom
    Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to
    use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

    11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps
    to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your
    Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such
    changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content
    to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or
    media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these
    11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power
    and authority necessary to grant the above license."

  2. yes, these are certainly similar to "rights grab" terms, but the are also "protect us against all eventualities" terms.

    I think these are the important parts in this respect:

    "This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services"

    "make such Content available to other companies... for the provision of syndicated services"

    I believe (hope) that the terms are to allow Google to provide these services and are not an underhand way to try to rights to use images for commercial purposes without paying for them.

  3. Unfortunately, I do believe that Google, in providing these services, are gaining the rights to use images for commercial purposes without paying for them. The terms are quite clear.

  4. In terms of Google's Search By Image service, I don't think it is really an issue as Google has no way to know whether the person tracking a specific image has copyright in that image, so they cannot claim any rights to it.

  5. I trust google about as far as I do a politician.

  6. Except for that pesky section 11.4 in which they ask you to warrant that you have the "rights, power, and authority" to grant the above license. If push came to shove, I'd guess some junior lawyer at Google would use that clause to say, "we asked, and they said they did -- how are we to know they were lying?"

  7. If I understand it correctly, anyone can post a link to one of my images on my blog and run it through the search by image section. How then does this 'rights grab' apply. As the copyright owner, if I did not initiate the search, how could Google enforce the above. To take it further, if I used a browser and ensured I was not logged into Google at the time, how could they know that the copyright owner ever agreed to the above?

  8. I don't think that submitting an image for search can really be called "posting" and as mentioned in most cases you can just submit the URL of the image online.

    In any case search like this would very arguable fall under research in §107 Fair use of Title 17.

  9. I have spent a few happy hours sending off invoices to those infringing my copyright. Most of my images on line are watermarked and very low res so I cannot see how Google could use them in any event. The benefits far outweigh the negatives (scuse the pun!). There is a debate going on at the Alamy forum regarding this.


  10. In terms of Google's TOS, I also find it confusing and I won't use this tool for my own images until I have a lawyer look at the TOS further.

  11. Folks using TwitPics to distribute images via Twitter weren't much concerned over similar TOS until TwitPics cut a deal with an agency to license the images

  12. Re: "Folks using TwitPics to distribute images via Twitter weren't much concerned over similar TOS until TwitPics cut a deal with an agency to license the images"

    Interesting - didn't know about that. Doing a search on Google came up with results like:

    "The Small Print Taketh Away If You Post To Twitpic"

    "Twitpic: Laundering Images of Owners’ Rights"

    "Why Journalists Should Dump Twitpic Now"

    And there is apparently an alternative that Twitter users can use called 'Yfrog' which makes clear that you keep all rights to your images.

    It looks like this has probably backfired on Twitpic and will just result in their users leaving en mass to Yfrog.

  13. Its true that Google's search is brilliant, but I think that Tineye still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

    Tineye managed to find a photo of a painting of my photo.

    I think the next step with this technology is to tie it into copyright registration. If google or tineye are able to accept an image with meta-data that says who the copyright owner is, then they could tie in with photo-hosting sites and image libraries so that your copyright is registered as soon you upload the image. It would also make it easier for people to locate the image owners

  14. Hi Paulo

    I agree that TinEye is great, and I wish them well, but I think Google is pretty good at finding 'similars' too. If you look at the results for an image search, it shows a block of images called 'Visually similar images' - you could try your image in the same way and maybe the painting of your image would appear there too!

    Your idea of Google/TinEye recording embedded copyright info is certainly interesting (though of course it would be open to abuse). It will be interesting to see how these technologies evolve - I think overall they can only be a good thing for photographers.

  15. I followed your directions and found out that some commercial website is using the image of one of my pieces of jewelry for an article they wrote. No one contacted me or gave me credit. Now what to do....

  16. Bill them. While it may often not be worth chasing up non-commercial/personal websites, if it is a commercial site then you should definitely charge them for using your image. The law is on your side.