Google adds Search by Image

June 18, 2011 · 11 comments

3-754-26  stock photo of England, Chelsea Flower Show, Yorkshire Forward Garden, Woman viewing garden

At long last Google announced this week a new Search by Image feature where users can identify a candidate image and Google will return a set of matching images. Toronto based Tineye has had this feature for years and has 2 billion photos indexed, but Google is clearly an immediate strong competitor with many billions more images already indexed.

For photographers who are concerned or intrigued about the distribution of their image on the web the Google service is a very promising offering indeed. There are several benefits for searching for your own image online. One is to find unauthorized uses for which you can bill the user (negotiate usage, or if need be take stronger measures). For non-commercial uses a photographer may instead choose linkbacks, photo credits and explicit recognition. And for authorized usage such as ads and book covers it is helpful know where the images are used if a stock agency doesn’t report details.

Even with a few spot checks it is apparent that Google Search by Image will be very effective. One of my most popular images of Laos showed up with six unknown usages in addition to my own site and two known publicity sites. One was a travel book cover I did not know about, most likely licensed through Getty Images (I will check). Tineye on the other hand showed two distinct other uses, one known and one an aggregator

Both services allow upload of candidate images or entry of a URL. With respect to ease of use, Google Search By Image has several nice features. The ability to drag an image from the desktop onto the browser is incredibly convenient. Also identifies other similar but not identical images of the same subject which can be helpful in identifying the subject matter. Google also allows you to add identifying text in some cases to improve match results.

Tineye still has several features that distinguish it. Logged in users’ searches are automatically saved online and given a dedicated URL. Also Tineye is much stricter, returning only exact matches and not near misses. Google may return lots of similar images of the Golden Gate, but Tineye will return the one with the exact same cloud and shadow formation. This gives photographers and photo buyers a much finer screen when looking for a specific images. Tineye also allows the user to submit an entire webpage and then pick the desired image to match from images on the page.

In addition to benefitting photographers image search gives users the ability to find out where an image is used or sourced. Anyone seeing a photographer’s image online, if it is not credited, can use Image Search to find the original source. Photographers can take advantage of this by being sure their own site is indexed by Google Images and clearly identifies them as creator. A third vendor, Picscout, recently acquired by Getty Images, has a distinct advantage in this respect in specifically identifying the licensing agent . On the other hand Picscout only finds images agents have submitted to the system.

An interesting sidenote to the release of Google Search by Image has been an alarmist reaction by some in the photographic community who seek to find fault with Google at every turn, and feel threatened by the technology rather than seeing the opportunities for photographers. Search by Image is a definite step forward in helping both users and photographers to get correct attribution for images.

Have you used Search by Image or Tineye to find your own or other images? Please post your impressions in the comments below.

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