Beware image theft – online images are in danger

Beware image theft… track down image pirates.

Beware the image pirates… track them down.

Image theft is almost the norm – now you can catch them

It is a sad fact of online life that images get stolen daily. Photographers live with the fact that their images are open to image theft. Tracing it is difficult, but now you can find pirated images.

Image theft is a numbers game

The problem with image theft is one of numbers. If you put the word “all” into Google Image search it returns “About 37,770,000,000” results. Yes, thirty seven billion, seven hundred and seventy million images at the time of writing! That is not all the images online. It is not even all the images Google knows about. It’s not clear if anyone knows how many images there are online. Trying to find out if one of your images has been used online without permission could be a huge task. Image thieves use this large number as cover. They expect never to be found.

Image theft – catching the thief

So how would you find out if someone was using your images? One way is to use the “Reverse Image Search Engine” called TinEye  External link - opens new tab/page. The search engine has been around for more than a year, but is becoming more and more useful. As it crawls the web it picks up a large reference library of images. It currently holds over two billion. What is special about TinEye is that each image has a special ‘signature’. This is the code behind the image. The signature of each image is unique. If someone steals your image you can find it. Simply provide TinEye with a copy of your image from your computer. Alternatively, you can give it a web address. Either way, TinEye will search its database and see if it has found your image somewhere else. It is simple and quick to do.

If an image signature like your image is found TinEye lists it for you to see. The search engine is pretty accurate. It shows exact replicas and any edited ones it can match to the signature you submit. Major edits still do not change the image signature. So even if the pirate tries to hide the image theft TinEye has a good chance of finding it.

What happens when you know who and where?

The work for you starts once you know someone has used an image you made. If you Want to pursue them it could get expensive. Concentrate only on sites using your images for commercial gain. Follow up if you think they might be able to pay for your image. You could make a small profit. It has to be said, it’s unlikely that an image theft will make a profit if you need legal support. However, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing you got some justice.

My image of a ‘Jolly Roger’ above is actually used all over the web. It is made from a typed character in Microsoft Word. Here is how it is done…

  • Open MS Word;
  • Select the font “wingdings”;
  • Type N;
  • A tiny Skull and cross bones is typed;
  • Make it large (200 point type);
  • Process in your favorite image editor.

The address for my “Skull and Crossed Bones” image above is…

If you copy and paste this address into TinEye  External link - opens new tab/page you will be able to see how the search engine works. There are quite a few “Jolly Roger” images made the same way I made mine. More than 350 variations were listed when I wrote this article. These are legal as they are made from a copyright-free type character. I am not claiming any copyright of my own. And, I have attributed the original image to Microsoft. My image above is known as a ‘derivative work’ in copyright law.

TinEye has only got a small percentage of the images on the web in its database. However, it’s grown from about 500 million images since last year to over two billion today. As it grows it gets more useful because more images are able to be matched.

Copyright law is working in most countries. It can be a complex law. It is worth reading more on the subject. I have included some links below.

Image theft – a dire crime

Copyright or image theft is a huge problem and a crime. It can seriously devalue a picture and take the livelihood away from an artist. Be vigilant. Make sure you protect yourself. And, if you use images, make sure you have not carried out an image theft by accident.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Comments are closed.