How To Check Image Plagiarism With Reverse Image Search?

Image plagiarism simply means image theft. This happens when someone copies your photos online, like copying images from your Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, your blog or any online platform and then reuse them somewhere else without properly citing those pictures, often in a way that disregards you as the copyright owner and shows as if the photos were their own. Giving no due credit or citation to the original source of the photos, not only do such people 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 plagiarism related to images and photos using a technique called reverse image search and also a few tips to help you protect from plagiarizing your photos.

What is a Reverse Image Search? And How Does It Work?

Reverse Image Lookup is a Content-Based Image Retrieval (CBIR) technology that involves searching for visually similar images on the internet. When we search for something online, we usually enter keywords/key-phrases in a search engine like Google. Similarly, for a reverse image search, we upload an image on the search engine and the search engine queries its database and matches the image color by color and pixel by pixel to return a list of exactly same or visually similar photos on the internet. It’s an effective technique for checking image plagiarism. I have also designed this infographic that explains how reverse image search works:

how reverse image search works
how reverse image search works
(Please cite the link of this post properly if you want to use this infographic on your website)

Important uses of Reverse Image Search:

Before we discuss the tools and techniques for performing reverse image search, let’s discuss briefly some of its important 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 are curious to find out.
  • In case you’re working on some project, it let’s you find out high resolution versions of the image files.

Best Image Plagiarism Checker Tools To Find Duplicate / Stolen Images Online

Now let’s review the best plagiarism checker tools on the internet that will help you find duplicate or stolen images by using Reverse Image Search:

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 straightforward. 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:

2. Yandex Image Search

When it comes to reverse image search, Yandex has an edge over Google. With a superior pixel, light, and color recognition technology, Yandex Images deliver results which are not only visually similar but also shockingly accurate. I encourage you to read and benefit from my recent post regarding how to use Yandex Images for reverse image search queries.

3. Tineye

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 every day. 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, its product lines like MatchEngine and Tineye Alerts cost as much as $200 per month, which is somewhat expensive.

4. Pixsy

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 puts up a very catchy tagline – “Find and Fight Image Theft”. This is how it works:

1.) Sign up for a free account on Pixsy.

2.) Once you’ve verified your account, they will ask you to select the most appropriate representation of your business – Photographer / Graphic Designer / Online shop / Agency.

Pixsy - Signup screen

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.

Although Pixsy offers a basic free account, but it comes with certain limitations as mentioned below:

  • It monitors only 500 images
  • Low priority scanning
  • You can’t send takedown requests

To unlock these limitations, you must 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 publish 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 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.
  • Disable right clicks. Although, it can be done away with disabling the JavaScript in a web browser, but at-least, this will act as a deterrent for less tech savvy image thieves.
  • Put a free DMCA badge on your website. This will again deter content thieves. With a 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.
  • 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.

Recommended to read: How to do video reverse search? Step-by-step guide.

Your Thoughts?

I hope that you’ll find this article really helpful in protecting your digital assets. I look forward to engaging with you in the comments below.

Photo of author

Abhishek Raj

Abhishek Raj is the Founder of Budding Geek. He is an inveterate blogger with a decade of experience in the internet technology & online marketing industry. Abhishek takes pride in being featured in some of the top industry websites like Marketing Land, Social Media Today, LifeHacker & ProBlogger. Learn more about Abhishek

27 thoughts on “How To Check Image Plagiarism With Reverse Image Search?”

  1. Hi Abishek,
    Great to see your post and got enlightened.
    I am a Biology Researcher.
    I have a query to address.
    There have been occasions, wherein people copy a content from some other source and paste it as a image and merge it in a PDF file for publications.
    Usually the plaigarsim count varies between softwares and servers.
    If I wish to check plaigarism for an image file containing words, How can go about with it?
    Thanks for your patience…

    Reply
    • Hi MANIVANNAN,
      I am sorry that I missed your comment.
      With regard to your query, I believe it will be very hard for the search engines to correctly identify text between two visually similar images. They all work on OCR technology and search for plagiarism in photos going by pixel-to-pixel and color-to-color details. Distinguishing text from the images will be hard in my opinion.

      Reply
  2. As an avid user of google chrome for many years,i have been using the “search google for this image” and “search by image”.Google can be pretty stupid when it comes to searching images.I have came across many images that i have taken directly from the internet and searched for it looking for a larger image only for google to not recognize the image at all and name it as something else.
    I will be up front with you all.I am literally a photo thief.No,i do not re-upload them to the internet or claim them as mine or sell them for profit.I just keep them for my personal use.I have years of experience in photo manipulation and hacking.I can take almost any picture and remove it’s watermark.I track every photo right down to the author’s website and every site he/she has ever uploaded it to.This includes your facebook page,flikr,500px,even smugmug.(yes,you can take any photo from smugmug also)
    So here is my advice to all you photographers.please take heed to it.
    1. Never upload/post anything larger then half of it’s original dimensions.You should make it as small,but as visible as possible.Anywhere from 400 to 600px should do.
    2. Watermark it using different semi transparent colors.Not just one.Your watermark should cover a majority of your image.Dont put your watermark at the very bottom/top.It is too easy to crop or remove it that way.
    3. Upload to one site and one site only.Do not give permission for any other vendor to sell your images.I will tell you why,and this is something most photographer’s never think about.
    If your image is uploaded to sites like shutterstock,depositfiles,123rf,bigstock..etc,they all have their own watermarks and their images are different sizes.you can get most of the images at the size of a computer generated desktop wallpaper.If you take the same image from each site,resize and crop them so they are the exact same size,overlay them in photoshop,one by one,then you can remove the watermarks as they are in different areas of each photo.Eventually you will come out with a clean photo.I know as i have done this many times.
    4. If you are using your own website,disable “right clicking” on every page.right clicking in chrome and using the inspect/application/top/images will get your images stolen.However,this can not be completely avoided as there is a shortcut key which also brings up the same window.That being ctrl/shift/c.
    This is also a way of getting the largest image you have uploaded even though you may have hidden it.This is also why you should only upload small images.
    5. Never sell your pictures directly from your website.Another words,in order for them to buy a photo,they must email you and you can send them the image through email after you have received payment.
    6.If you want to post your photo’s in facebook,flikr,smugmug..etc..make sure they are the EXACT same size,with the watermark that you have uploaded to your own website.NEVER upload a larger image ANYWHERE.
    It is easy for a hacker to shrink an image but not enlarge it as it will become pixellated.That is another reason for the small watermarked size.
    THERE IS NO SITE SAFE FROM THEFT! as long as you take the precautions and advice i have given you,you will be more secure and photo theft free.
    I welcome your responses and would be more then happy to answer any questions if i can.

    Reply
  3. Thank you so much for sharing the list of Plagarism checker tools. Recently I faced a bitter experience when someone copied my posts. I am thankful to my friends like you who have taken initiative to come up with these kinds of posts in order to detect and stop plagiarism.

    Reply
  4. I knew this thing before lol but i want to know how you will check the originality of a picture specially in the case of thesis and research. Like one doesnt get some results and so takes a picture of some plants or bacteria from the net and set it in his own thesis or paper by editing it (croping, zooming or berightening) ?? How you will catch that plagiarism??

    Reply
    • Hi Asif. Thanks for dropping your comment. If that research work has been published on the internet or indexed by Google, then you can easily catch that plagiarism using this tip. Otherwise, it may go undetected. Who will probably never know who is using the copyrighted photos (unless that work is published on the internet). I hope I answered your question 🙂

      Reply
  5. There are so many website on the net based on similar category, so it is obvious that a common image can be found in many sites…
    what is the best way of using photos from another website? Can i use photos from the official site? As you can see my site is a site based on mobile information. So how i can i collect photos that need to put into my site?

    Reply
    • Hi Shahadat, you can use photos from the official sources as long as you agree to their copyright conditions (if any), like linking back to the original source, attribution, etc. If there’s nothing mentioned regarding the copyrights, then you are free to use those images. However, linking back or mentioning the original source of the image is always ethical and it doesn’t hurt at all. But make sure that you’re linking/mentioning the “original source” only.

      Reply
  6. That’s one way to do this, but there are also tools for searching duplicates of pictures online, for example this one and I don’t know which method is better, because I guess that in either case there is a way of beating the system… Just like someone mentioned above, by cropping the picture or something like that.

    Reply
  7. Awesome! I really didn’t know that image plagiarism could be so easily detected with Google. But there is one question though – will it also work for re-sized images that well?

    Reply
  8. Thank you so much for this post Abhishek! I’m a photographer based in London and this is really gonna help me a lot in finding out those who are using my work without any permission 😉

    Reply

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