Google Image Search rolls out search by picture. Plagiarists, beware!

This past week, Google has rolled out a new feature for Google Image Search. Now, you can search the web for images similar to one that you upload yourself (or by simply entering the URL for an image that is already online). I love that feature, but it occurred to me there could be some interesting side effects. It will now be much easier for photographers and other artists to see who is using their images without being properly licensed.

Google Image Search

When you go to Google Image Search now, you will see some thumbnails underneath the search box, with the invitation to drag one of them into the search box. This will then run a search based on your selected image. Of course, it is not limited to just those images. By clicking on the camera icon inside the search box, you can upload an image from your own computer or paste in a link to an existing image.

The technology is apparently related to the Google Goggles system that originated in the mobile arena and allows you to search for images similar to the one you provide. The system can recognise certain image elements and will, for instance, show you other pictures of the Eiffel tower if you upload one of your vacation snapshots. It can also tell you which images it has encountered on the web which are visually similar.

Many people, when they need a picture for something, search the web and just use whatever image they find there. Most fail to realise (or just don't care) that most of these images are copyrighted and need to be properly licensed. And even if those images are available under the Creative Commons license, there are often clauses requiring attribution, limiting commercial use or prohibiting manipulation of the image (effectively creating a derivative work). Some people abide by these requirements, like right here on my site, I link to the original page and credit the author when I use an appropriately licensed image I found on Flickr or stock photo sites. Other people don't, often unwittingly.

This new feature will enable a lot of these artists, agencies or studios to discover more quickly when their content is being used in violation of the license under which they are provided. I seriously expect them, and their lawyers, to have a field day with this and I would not be surprised to see a surge in takedown notices or claims of infringement.


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