Let’s play look-a-likey!

For some time now photographers have been waiting in hope for the application that would help them track use of their images. Something that, without prohibitive amounts of effort and financial investment would allow them to find illicit uses so they could chase infringers for payment and to have the work removed from websites where it’s not licensed to be used.

Of course photographers are keen to ensure they get paid for infringements, and this is the side of the copyright argument that is so often flagged up by those who would like to be allowed to infringe more freely (sometimes known as freetards). Having photographers portrayed as money-grabbing monopolists is a handy way of demonizing those who merely want to protect the work they create.

What gets mentioned less is the harm it does to a photographer when work they have shot and charged to a commissioning client gets hijacked by someone who is just not in the mood for paying for the stuff they use. If an image is licensed to a paying client, and they see someone else using it for free, it can harm the photographer/client relationship and also cause problems with exclusivity, model releases and further legal issues where a stolen image is being used in a libelous context.

All these are issues faced by the photographer today, and it can take a lot of valuable time just to ensure images are not being appropriated by inappropriate people and used in inappropriate ways (that’s easy for me to say).

So while the tineye service has been around a while, and it can be very good at “reverse image searches” it’s also clear it can’t possibly keep up with indexing every image that gets uploaded to a website every minute of the day. Better perhaps if a service like Google, which seems to have web crawling and indexing off to a fine art, could come up with something more powerful.

Cue Google image search, where you chuck an image from your hard drive into the search box on Google which then returns matches of that image, plus any similar images it finds.

However, if photographers thought Google had the answer, they may be disappointed to discover that Google’s image search function was starting out with a different question.

I’ve been playing with Google’s image search function, and to me it’s more suited to finding images which represent the feel or look of an image you already have, but which might not quite match what you’re after, rather than a tool for photographers to use to find infringing copies of their images.

Having run a few of my images through the system, I found some bizarre and vaguely humourous results, which I’ve set out below. Try it with some of your own images, and see what happens. I’m sure there’s a great game waiting to be invented.

Tim Gander, Photographer, Frome

Starting with Yours Truly: None of these women looks like me, but one appears to be holding a camera.



Tony Benn

Seriously?!: Tony Benn is, among other things, matched with Einstein, a tapir and an X-ray of a pelvis. Squint and some of them do look similar.

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  • JPCi Group August 23, 2011  

    It’s good to see you showing your feminine side there Tim. On a positive note It shows there are no pictures that quite compare.

    • Glass Eye August 23, 2011  

      Thank you… I think 😉

  • robertday154 August 23, 2011  

    It seems very much to match on colour, tones and compositional shapes. Might be handy if you get a client that says “I want a photograph that looks like this one but isn’t this one…”

    • Glass Eye August 23, 2011  

      Yes, colour, patterns etc. tineye is still more useful for finding exact copies, it just can’t keep up with all the images on the web.

    • Glass Eye August 23, 2011  

      Clearly Google works by comparing brain function – but since Einstein is dead…

      • JPCi Group August 23, 2011  


        • Glass Eye August 23, 2011  

          Have you checked your pulse lately?

  • Andrew Spiers August 23, 2011  

    I have found Google to be better than Tineye at finding infringements.

    Google has more images indexed and I think its interface is easier to use.

    • Glass Eye August 23, 2011  

      Some people seem to find it works better for them, though to be fair some of my test images were a little obscure. You gotta have fun with these things after all.

      This is a point I make about tineye though, that it needs to get better indexing systems going to keep up. The drag and drop method is obviously quicker than tineye’s too. As usual, I suspect Google is looking to a) crush or b) buy or c) buy, then crush tineye in usual Google style.

  • PeterD August 23, 2011  

    Based on some of the associations it found for one of mine today, you wonder if the people at google are having a sense of humour.


    The inference that cabinet ministers are somewhat similar to dogs, seems a tad ironic.

    • Glass Eye August 24, 2011  

      That’s excellent. It’s clearly a shapes and colours thing. Google matches pictures in quite a childlike way.

      To be fair, if the same picture crops up on multiple sites, Google will return the result provided those uses have been indexed. What seems odd is that the “similar pictures” results are so whacky and surreal.

      • PeterD August 24, 2011  

        Like most of these systems though, it doesn’t seem to be that comprehensive. I’ve tried a few of my images through it and although some uses come up, many of the uses I know about and which are legit (eg my website, or a clients) don’t.

        • Glass Eye August 24, 2011  

          Hi Peter, I think the issue for any of these systems is the sheer volume of images being uploaded avery second of every day to all the various websites. The bots which crawl and index simply can’t keep up, and I suspect this means they often miss images which may have been hanging around for a while.

          My understanding is that if I upload images to Photoshelter and tick the “Make these images publicly searchable” box, Tineye will automatically index them. I’m not entirely convinced, in addition to which this isn’t entirely useful. I know where my copies of my images within my own website are. What I want to know is if some scallywag has made copies and hosted them elsewhere. Obviously Getty have a much better system in the form of Picscout, which they also recently bought for HUGE sums. I wish I’d bought it myself now, but I just couldn’t quite raise the cash…

  • pogo August 23, 2011  

    very good post–gave up on google image search long ago because it brings back so much unrelated stuff– and seems to be easily manipulated and hijacked by spammers, webbies, etc. but dump this on the googlites and they will be more than annoyed with your obvious results.

    • Glass Eye August 24, 2011  

      If only tineye were able to index the web as quickly and thoroughly, but there we go. VHS beat Betamax, but which was the better format? It’s market might at work again.