October 13, 2017

How reverse image search tools like Pixsy help fight image theft

Reverse image search engines are extremely useful in the fight against online image theft. Now it's easier than ever for photographers to find out how many times their copyright has been infringed, and to take affirmative action. This overview will help decode some of the technical jargon behind image searching, and explain how you can use it to protect your photographs.

What is a reverse image search?

In simple terms, a reverse image search takes a photo you've uploaded or provided the URL for and turns it into a search term.Just as a regular search engine generates a list of pages featuring your query in the title or meta-description, a search tool for photos will display every instance where your work is currently viewable online.

Reverse image search platforms have a wide variety of uses. Some are informational, such as finding out the name of an actor from a movie still. Others, like Pixsy, are vital in the fight against photo theft by locating unlicensed uses of your work, or determining an image's original source so you can ask permission to use it from the photographer.

reverse image search engine
Photo: Benjamin Balázs

How does a reverse image search tool work?

A reverse search tool is known as a content-based image retrieval (CBIR) technique, which creates a "digital fingerprint" of the photo to find matches from. Aside from detecting intellectual property, they can be used for a variety of other applications such as face-finding or detecting nudity and other explicit content.

Performing a reverse photo search is very straightforward, but there are a few things you can do if you want to find or avoid specific results:

1. Some image search engines let you refine your results by size, file type, or what license the image has (i.e. All Rights Reserved or Creative Commons).

2. In some cases, you may get a positive result, but can’t find your image on the linked website -- this maybe because it’s being used as the article thumbnail

3. When you come across a website that's using your photo, you can ensure that all of them credit you with a link back to your website.

4. You can run a reverse image search to check whether anyone using your photo is doing so in a way that reflects well on you e.g. that the photo isn't promoting a purpose or cause you don't agree with.

How do they help fight image theft?

Reverse image search tools are particularly effective when dealing with unauthorized photo use. Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • You can get matching search results even when images have been resized, cropped or when there are slight differences in color and contrast.
  • It brings up more complex matches, such as when your photo has been used as a poster or bus advertisement.
  • Any matches where a watermark, or other key elements, have been photoshopped out of the original version will still appear in the search results.
  • By maintaining a database of images, you can identify any new possible cases of copyright infringement right away.
Pixsy Reverse image Search tool

Pixsy Reverse Image Search adds a variety of other benefits for professional photographers:

  • You don’t have to go load up the site every time you need to find an image; Pixsy lets you import your photographs in batches, and performs continuous searches.
  • Whereas a search by image usually requires you to upload or link to the photos, Pixsy can sync up photo collections from multiple platforms like Flickr, 500px, and Dropbox (to name a few).
  • If you've determined that a photo or particular match is not worth worrying about, you can mark it as 'ignored' and it won't appear in future searches.

Reverse image search engines should be as essential in a photographer's toolkit as their camera. They allow you to see how far your photographs have traveled across the net but also play a huge part in keeping control over how they're used, now and in the future.

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