Is someone stealing your photos?

19Sep11

When I accidentally documented a major news event in 2007, my photojournalist friends advised me to hire a rights-management agency — and fast.

I was grateful for their advice: Within 24 hours, my images were all over the Internet.

Most of the online news sites had acquired the photos through the Associated Press. But a handful of others were using my photos without permission — and in a disgusting, sensationalist way. I’m so grateful that Polaris Images was there to help.

Only four years later, I’m happy to report that photographers and visual artists have a new ally.

TinEye is a reverse-search algorithm that compares your image to millions of others on the Web. According to one promotional video, “… TinEye does for images what Google does for text.”

In the same way that biometric software might analyze a face, TinEye analyzes the components of your image. This lets it find matches based on the image itself, rather than metadata like keywords or file names.

I was dubious at first. Still, I was curious enough to upload one of my favorite photos from the Paris catacombs.

“Holy moly!” I thought as I perused the results. “A bunch of people have stolen my photo!”

I was wrong, of course. By using the “compare” feature, I discovered that a bunch of people had actually taken the same photo. The differences between my image and one of the matches were subtle — but evident.

TinEye offers lots of other options such as searching by closest match, most altered and file size.

The real genius behind TinEye, however, is that it shows you all of the matches, even if they’ve been altered, cropped or Photoshopped.

I loved the example from their demo video. Here’s the original …

… and here’s one of TinEye’s results:

Hideous! Yet kind of cool that TinEye recognized it and flagged it.

Of course, that’s not to imply that you’ll always get a match for your image. But that will likely change as TinEye continues to crawl the Web and build its database.

Want to learn more, or give TinEye a try? Check out www.tineye.com.

HBlog is not affiliated with TinEye or Idée, Inc. and was not compensated for writing this post.


14 Responses to “Is someone stealing your photos?”

  1. Thanks for this info. It’s something I think about whenever I post. ThinEye sounds like the ticket.

    • 2 hmunro

      Like you, I sometimes wonder about the wisdom of publishing my photos online. But it’s reassuring to know that emerging technologies like TinEye will at least give us a fighting chance at protecting our intellectual property. BTW, I’ll be curious to hear how many of your images you’re able to find, if you try TinEye. My success rate has been pretty low so far – though it’s been fun perusing the “close matches.”

  2. 3 XpatScot

    A very useful tool. I tried it on the image of the Pont Bir-Hakeim that brought us together and you’ll be happy to know that our respective images were judged sufficiently different to be regarded as originals.
    As an amateur photographer, I’m usually honoured if someone uses one of my shots, although it would be nice to be asked beforehand; but in cases like your bridge collapse shot which must have had real commercial value, I can understand that photographers need to protect their IP and this tool you’ve found will certainly help root out the miscreants. Thank you 🙂

    • 4 hmunro

      I’m so glad to hear TinEye’s conclusion that we’ve not been stealing from each other! Ha! I do think you should give yourself more credit, though … you’re far more than an “amateur photographer,” Xpat — and as such, you deserve credit (and dare I say recognition!) for your images. But if nothing else, I hope this tool will perhaps help you find a few corners of the Internet where your images have been praised and admired. You deserve nothing less. 🙂

  3. thanks for information. the internet is a great and at the same time shady place so we have to try and protect ourselves from our work and identity as best as we can while we share and promote ourselves online. just bookmarked it.

    awesome blog by the way

    • 8 hmunro

      Thanks a million for your kind words, harruhsun! I’m very honored, because your blog is *super* awesome. (How can so much talent fit into one person?! Seriously!!) And if you do end up using TinEye for anything, let me know. I’m very curious to hear whether others are finding it useful/practical.

      • aaawww shucks now don’t make me blush ::takes a bow:: I try I try haha but if I do decide to use the search image engine I shall let you know.

  4. You have done a great service for photographers everywhere by sharing this information. I’ve bookmark this particular post for my “Reference” folder of sites.

  5. Hiya, I toyed with putting a copyright logo on my photos for a while but then gave up. I enjoy taking photos and I’m quite happy to share my efforts for now, if I do ever take a masterpiece though I know where to turn to help protect it.
    Thanks for the tip. 🙂


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