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.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Sanger June 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I’d like to add this link from Carl Chapman which raises some interesting side issues re: Flick:


2 June 25, 2011 at 12:00 am

Found one of my Alamy licensed images on Forbes Magazine website. I was only paid $30.00 commission for one month usage on 27 October 2007.
Here is Alamy response.
Hi David,
Thanks for getting back to us.
rights are an industry standard and is simply a development of the
digital world with increasing numbers of our clients moving their
content online, and it is simply the case that the client archives the
article for which the image was originally licensed.
is common practise for all magazines and newspapers and is agreed to in
our agreements direct with these clients.  We build this need to
archive into our negotiations.  If we disallowed the publisher to do
this, we would be excluded from their supplier list as each publication
archives their articles online.  This is no greater than they have
always done, through older systems such as microfiche etc.
archiving included in the licence, there would have been no sale
whatsoever. Also the price agreements with the clients are confidential
documents and we cannot diclose them for any purpose.
Please understand that this is how it works.
Kind regards   Asha


3 Per-BKWine June 19, 2011 at 11:32 am

I’m using TinEye occasionally and find it quite good although it is limited in the scope of images it has in its database. The matching technology in TinEye is very impressive. I’m also part of Picscout (I have images in their database) but have not yet seen any productive outcome of it.

I did a quick test of the new Google image search and found that it did a poor job of matching the image I submitted. It returned a whole lot of entirely different images. But that may have been a one-time quirk. I have no doubt that it will be useful.

Working with stock the big question for Google Image serach (as for TinEye and any similar image serach technology) is how to automate the process. You can’t manually check, say, 10,000 images.

(BTW: I find this Disqus signin really annoying. Perhaps I haven’t understood what good it does.)


4 Fabio @ June 18, 2011 at 4:40 pm

David, I agree 100% on this one. Google gave us an excellent tool to track unauthorized usages. On a quick test, I was able to find an old image on the Brazilian National Institute of Industrial Property. How ironic!

Still missing on my Google wishlist are: search by image metadata and maybe batch searching capabilities for the new search by image function.


5 Ron Buskirk June 18, 2011 at 11:45 am

David, have you looked at the Terms of Service for submitting an image to their search tool?  I don’t know how they could enforce them, but you should have a look.


6 David Sanger June 19, 2011 at 6:49 am

I don’t think the terms and conditions apply here because almost always you just enter a link rather then send an image. Even if you do upload an image for matching they won’t keep it because it doesn’t live on a web page so cannot be returned in search results. So basically in the case I am not concerned.


7 Anonymous June 19, 2011 at 8:07 am

I want to agree that it’s an opportunity rather than cause for alarm. But surely clause 11.2 below does at least give pause for thought:

11. Content license from you11.1 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.


8 David Sanger June 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I’ve seen that Jeremy and it is quite unclear whether §11 would be triggered by doing an image search with an uploaded. The same logic would apply to text which is input into the standard Google search to find out where it is used on the web. I am trying to find out from Google what their position is on this clause vis-a-vis Google Image Search and uploaded images.


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