Image plagiarism simply means image theft. It occurs when someone copies your photos online, like copying images from your Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, your blog or any online platform and then using them somewhere else, like their own blog/website often in a way that dismisses you as the copyright owner and shows as if the images were their own. Without giving any due credit or reference to the original source of the photos, not only such persons commit copyright infringement, but also pose a grave threat to the liberal ideas of free sharing and downloading. In this article, I’ll discuss how to track the menace of image plagiarism using a technique called reverse image search.
The Reverse image search is a technology that involves searching for visually similar images on the internet. Unlike keyword research where we provide a text based query for searching for something online, with reverse image search, we have to just upload an image and the search engine performs the task of tracking all exact match photos online. It’s an effective technique for checking image plagiarism.
Before we discuss the available tools and techniques for performing reverse image search, let’s discuss briefly some of its uses:
- Number one, it lets you find out who is using your copyrighted images on the internet
- Helps you find out the original source of the image
- In case you’re working on some project, it let’s you find out high resolution versions of the image files.
Reverse Image Search Methods For Detecting Image Plagiarism
1. Google Image Search
Google images is the first thing that comes in my mind whenever I think of reverse image search. Why? Because it’s credible, popular and straight forward. Here is how it works:
Step 1: Head on to google images. There, you’ll see a small camera like icon on the right hand side of the search bar.
Step 2: You just have to click on the camera icon and upload your desired photo that you wish to check for image plagiarism.
The search engine works on a computer technology called “query based image content” which retrieves exact/visually identical images from the basic image which was uploaded in the search query. Here is a step by step screenshot for your reference:
Now, a genuine question may arise in your mind – What if someone crops my photo and renames the file. Will google still detect such forms of image plagiarism? The answer is Yes.
Even if someone crops out the watermark in your photo and renames the files to some generic name, Google can still detect the original source file. Here is a screenshot:
Tineye is an exclusive reverse image search engine that claims to search images based on pattern recognition, neural networks, and machine learning technology. Like Google, Tineye crawls the web and keeps updating its data repository regularly wish fresh index of images everyday. Till date, Tineye claims to have indexed over 35 billion images to its index. Tineye uses its specialized image recognition technology and compares for exact/visually similar images against its indexed database of images.
On privacy front, Tineye claims that when someone searches with Tineye, it never saves/index the images. The search is private and secure. However, as per my knowledge, Google also not saves/index the image queries.
Tineye is free to use for non-commercial purposes. However, it’s product lines like MatchEngine and Tineye Alerts cost as much as $200 per month, which is somewhat expensive.
Pixsy is a web service that aims at protecting the interests of photographers by regular monitoring of duplicate photos online and then keeping a provision for prosecuting the offenders if desired. It’s tagline is – “Find and Fight Image Theft”. This is how it works:
Step 1: Signup for a free account on Pixsy.
Step 2: Once you’ve verified your account, you’ll be asked to select the most appropriate representation of your business – Photographer / Graphic Designer / Online shop / Agency.
Step 3: You’ll get an option to either connect your photo-social networks like Instagram/Flickr/Pinterest with Pixsy or to manually upload your photos on the Pixsy server.
Once uploaded, Pixsy will start scanning the internet for exact match duplicate images. Once the scanning is complete, you’ll be shown a comprehensive report on the sources where these duplicate images have appeared.
Althouh Pixsy offers a basic free account, but it comes with certain limitations as mentioned below:
- Only 500 images are monitored
- Low priority scanning
- You can’t send takedown requests
To unlock these limitations, you’ll need to upgrade to either personal ($19/month), pro ($39/month) or advance version ($89/month) based on your individual needs.
Limitations of Reverse Image Search in Checking Image Plagiarism
The tools and techniques mentioned above largely rely on web crawlers’ ability to index the image files and web pages. If someone does not post the stolen images online, or in case web crawlers are blocked from crawling a certain web page, it becomes almost impossible to check image plagiarism.
How To Prevent Image Plagiarism In The First Place?
As the old adage says prevention is better than cure, it’s imperative that we make sure images are not plagiarised in the first place. Here are some of the things in our control to prevent such misuse:
- Always watermark your original photos before posting them online
- Make sure that you mention all the licensing information clearly that explains the fair/unfair/general acceptable rules for using your photos for commercial/non commercial purpose. Here is a good resource on Pixpa blog that explains it all in detail.
- Put a free DMCA badge on your website. This will again deter content thieves. With registered badge, you’ll also get free watermarking as an add-on service
Offenders Caught? Now Issue Take-down Notices
Once you’ve identified the thieves, it’s time to contact them directly and issue legal take-down requests. Here is an ideal step by step process that you can follow –
- Go to their websites and find out their contact information.
- Compose a mail and politely ask them to take down the copyrighted photos. Don’t threaten them for any dire consequences. Just be polite and humble with your request.
- Wait for their responses. In case of negative responses, don’t follow up. Contact their web-hosting provider and apprise them about this issue.
- Additionally, if you think the duplicate pages are hurting your reputation & SEO efforts, you can request Google to take them down from its search results.
- You may also take help from various legal take-down formats available online. Check this out on Pixsy for your reference. You can send such letters directly to the web-hosting provider/person who infringes upon your exclusive copyrights.
I hope that you’ll find this article really helpful in protecting your digital assets. I look forward to engage with you in the comments below.